Eleven years after their first gig, eight years after their first album, five years after the mid-nineties madness started to subside, here's no mystery why millions still love Oasis: honesty. The men are honest, the music is honest. We trust Oasis. That's why, one Saturday morning this winter, when 120,000 tickets went on sale for the band's two summer shows at Finsbury Park, Noel Gallagher was able to take a call from his manager by lunchtime to say that all the tickets had gone. "That's without them hearing any of the new stuff," says Noel, shaking his head in admiration. "For all the fans knew, we could have made a reggae album."
They haven't made a reggae album. What they've made is Heathen Chemistry: explosive, yes; experimental, no. It's another, great, Oasis album; their fifth. "We've moved on a wee bit," says Noel. "But to re-invent ourselves completely we'd have to be contrived and we're not capable of that. I couldn't take on an alter ego and I know Liam couldn't because I'd be stood behind him going 'you look like a twat'. I don't think I'd look good in leather trousers anyway. We do Oasis music and that's it." Honesty again. Similarly, there's nothing too deep and meaningful about the album's title. It came from a T-shirt Noel bought in Ibiza.
"I love this record," says Noel. "But I would say that wouldn't I?" With any other pop idol, of course you'd share his cynicism. Coming from a man so ruthlessly self-critical as to virtually disown the band's third album, a man who is scathingly dismissive of the marketing hype that threatens to take over his industry, you pay attention when he says: "It's a better collection of songs than the last two or three. It boils down to that: the songs are better. It does get more difficult. You can't just write Raspberry Fields Forever."
"I don't know if I'm a better songwriter," he says. "But there is something in the air around the band that breeds better songs." He is reluctant to analyse it further, but admits that Liam contributing three songs and Gem Archer and Andy Bell one each might well have forced him to raise his game. "Maybe it's a competitive thing, I don't know. Keith Richards said "you don't go after the songs, the songs find you."
"The best songs," he says, "pour out of you. You sit there with a guitar and a piece of paper and a pen, get the first line right, the rest of it comes immediately." That happened to him several times last summer. "I was living in a hotel near Buckingham Palace. Warm day, fuck all on the telly, in love with my girlfriend. I wrote She is Love in ten minutes. Live Forever was like that. Slide Away was like that. They're the songs that mean something to other people. You write it, put the kettle on, come back, sing it into a tape recorder, play it back and go: 'yeah, that's finished.' Fast forward six months and there's 60,000 people in a field singing it to you. What the fuck's that about? That's magic, as Paul Daniels once said."
Noel conjured up Stop Crying Your Heart Out in similar fashion. Buskers be advised: learn it quickly; this track will be the Wonderwall of its time. If She is Love is about Noel's new girlfriend, many will assume that Force of Nature is about his ex-wife (I certainly did). But they'd be wrong. "I'll have to answer this a million times," he says wearily. "I wrote it for a film with Jude Law and Jonny Lee Miller a year before I got divorced and I've got the video to prove it. There you go. I'm going to bring that video to all my interviews for this album." In any event, it's a cracking song.
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It's no surprise that Noel still has what it takes - and now it turns out that his brother has too. "When I heard Born on a Different Cloud," says Noel, "I didn't think Liam had written it. I thought he was lying. But he always said, with everything he's been through, if he hasn't got it in him to write songs like that he'd be a waste of space. It was gonna come out one day." Now, it has. Liam's big brother glowed with "massive relief and pride."
If it sounds like they're getting on well, that's because they are. "I've grown to love that boy so much," says Noel. "He is real. People say he plays up to his image but he's always been like that: lippy, loudmouthed, funny. Now he understands that when you're working you can't go on acting like you're sixteen when you're thirty. As soon as he started writing songs, he stopped being a pisshead." Thanks to that change, and - Noel is keen to stress - the calming influence and expert musicianship of Gem and Andy, the recording of Heathen Chemistry was sober and relaxed, unmarked by tantrums or walk-outs. The energy and attitude that have always been the band's strengths went into the music, not the myth-making: and it shows.
By Robert Crampton