Blur > Oasis

Most popular songs follow a I-IV-V or I-V-IV chord progression. An example of the first is “Blowin’ in the Wind”, and the second is “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. Or, see anything by The Ramones. The chords in these progressions cooperate so harmoniously and resolve so pleasingly back to the root that they can easily become earworms.

From my limited understanding, Oasis wrote those kinds of songs. My understanding is limited because I’ve only ever heard the hits, and my one or two dives into this or that album were aborted due to boredom. Still, I’ve endured the same handful of Oasis songs so many times—in stores, passenger seats, sporting events—that like you perhaps, I can recite their lyrics from memory. That means I’m no expert in their catalog, but I do hold opinions about their most popular half-dozen.

On the planet of Gallagher, they just want to fly, they don’t want to die. They walk down halls, faster than cannonballs. The girls are named Sally. Usually, Oasis would prefer that you stop doing something, whether that be looking back in anger or crying your heart out. It’s totally fine that they love to rhyme and whine all the time!

As for the music, their backing tracks are the kind of polished, sweet lozenges that Jeff Lynne might manufacture just for fun on a lazy Sunday and file away in his vault for posterity. Maybe that sounds harsh, so let me clarify: 1) Jeff Lynne is a master, and 2) Oasis creates very palatable soundscapes that are just a little too unadventuresome for my taste.

Yet, some days, I just want a bland, melodic song to fill in the background while working, and, sure, Oasis can provide that—not that I ever think to listen to them in those instances, but, in theory, they could. And truly, some Oasis songs are bangers despite their insipid, inane, idiot, stupid, maddening words. 

OK, here is an ad hominem objection, separate from the quality and competency of their product: I might like Oasis more if Liam Gallagher had stage dived to his death during their first tour. I must admit that his well-documented shitty personality does factor into my assessment of his band—which is a bummer because I probably could appreciate his mastermind brother’s songcraft if I gave it an unbiased chance. But there are still a million bands I haven’t heard yet, and so many other listening experiences to be had, that when I see the Oasis sign on the side of the road, I get a mental flash of that dickhead Liam and drive right past it to the Love Shack, baby!

And, another admission, I haven’t tried N.G.’s High Flying Birds because I’m disinterested in Noel’s vox, which can be fairly described as adequate. Let’s say, less bono than Bono.

If the boys in Blur aced their SATs, those Oasis lads would cheat off your paper. Noel Gallagher writes (still does, I assume) catchy chants that are perfectly suited for a daisy-chained crowd of drunken football fans. Maybe that’s why I’ve always considered them a quintessentially British band, whereas while Damon Albarn’s crew possess some of that same Brit-snottiness, I would expect them to be delighted to travel by bus to Wall Drug, where they could amuse themselves by deriding Americana tchotchkes.

Blur tested the limits of traditional song forms and eventually attempted to eschew them completely. Like The Beatles, they had the chops and the looks to be an enormously successful band, and asked, “But why?” Their first album Leisure predated Oasis’s Definitely Maybe by three years, but its lead track, “She’s So High” sounds not dissimilar to a Noel Gallagher ditty. By Leisure’s second song and subsequent songs, Blur had already grown bored and begun exploring, bravely throwing in the odd flat note for tension’s sake, or playing with speed. Comparatively, I can’t imagine Gallagher ever deviating from key or allowing his drums to sound like anything other than a metronomically precise machine.

Like the Beatles, Blur would jump all over the musical timeline, leaping from a throbbing discotheque to an old ragtime hall, with a melancholy hike along the White Cliffs of Dover in between. With each successive album, they progressively deconstructed their music—and, in the case of startlingly handsome Albarn, themselves. (Seriously, I always thought Damon could have a profitable career as an actor playing whatever parts Jude Law declined.) 

Per Wikipedia, sometime around 1996-97, “Under the suggestion of the band’s guitarist, Graham Coxon, the band underwent a stylistic change, becoming influenced by American indie rock bands such as Pavement.” I can see that. I listened to Blur in real time, buying every album upon release and listening all the way through that day, and upon finishing 1999’s 13, I was convinced that a) Damon needed a script for Zoloft, and b) this band gave zero shits about their bank accounts.

And yet, amidst their experimentation, Blur would occasionally toss off a rocker like “Song 2” to remind you what they COULD do but chose not to. That’s a perfect example, actually: “Song 2” may have the most intentionally dumb lyrics of any anthem played at modern sports arenas. American sports arenas. Their hit “Girls & Boys” is still played at dance clubs, and it’s another instance of them taking the piss out of a conventional form.

Truth: If I were in a band, I’d want it to be Blur-like, but with Oasis money.

Another truth: I dislike Liam & Damon almost equally. Arrogant shits, both. The difference is that Albarn has genuine talent to back it up, whereas Gallagher can merely sing a small range of notes in key and is stranded without his brother (or another songwriter) to hand him a lyric sheet and a bottle of claret.

A decade on, you’ll still hear “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Wonderwaaaaall” sung by the inebriated rabble around a soccer pitch, which is a testament to Noel Gallagher’s particular genius. Maybe you’ll still hear “Song 2” during time-outs at Lakers games, too. Between these bands, though, Blur will be the one respected by listeners who appreciate traditional pop/rock groups that attempt to test the limit of their art—and try to make art—and, most days, I am such a listener. Hence, for me, Blur is >.

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