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November 21, 2006

Oasis turn back time with new best-of compilation

I seem to have time-travelled back to 1995. O.J. Simpson is telling us all how, if he had done it, how he did it, Britpop is topping the charts, and Oasis has come out with an album. It’s even called Stop the Clocks, which is clearly a reference to the W.H. Auden poem that John Hannah read in the film with the weddings and the funeral—you know, Hugh Grant was in it…came out last year…

Well, it’s not exactly 1995. O.J. will say nothing new, Britpop is nothing new, and the Oasis album, Stop the Clocks, is nothing new. More precisely, it’s a best-of compilation, with 18 tracks chosen by Noel Gallagher himself; the album’s title refers to a new song (not included on the album) that the brothers Gallagher have recorded. Much of the controversy surrounding this album stems from Noel Gallagher’s previous declaration that Oasis will only release a best-of compilation when they break up. The release of Stop the Clocks brings up many questions: Will the Gallaghers no longer amuse the world with their thatchy eyebrows, thick Mancunian accents, and profanity-laced interviews? Is there really a point to releasing a best-of album for a band that’s only been around for 12 years? And what exactly is a wonderwall?

Never fear—according to their press release, Oasis is taking “a well-earned sabbatical prior to starting work on new material.” Stop the Clocks is simply a contractual obligation the band must perform before breaking ties with Sony BMG, and thus the album is a teaser to sate your appetite while Oasis is busy thinking up new songs.

Stop the Clocks is actually an apt title for this 12-year retrospective; half the songs are from the band’s first two albums, Definitely Maybe and What’s the Story, Morning Glory. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, since what anyone really thinks of when they think of Oasis is one or both of these albums. Regardless of what eras the album covers, it ought to fulfill two functions: to have all the popular songs available in one place, and to provide a comprehensive introduction to Oasis. Stop the Clocks fulfills both of these criteria admirably.

Disc One opens with the punchy “Rock and Roll Star,” the title of which tells you all you really need to know about the band. If you are not already acquainted with Oasis’s particular brand of swaggering, feedback-distorted Britrock, this album displays that in spades, along with their tendency to compose songs that go on for about two minutes longer than is really necessary. The chugging guitars displayed on “Some Might Say” and “Slide Away” become somewhat repetitive, but some of the newer songs depart from this trend, and in doing so, become more interesting. The bouncing rhythm and old-fashioned melancholy of “The Importance of Being Idle” is an interesting and welcome departure from their early work. And the sweeping melody of “The Masterplan,” one of Oasis’s most popular B-sides, is complimented by layers of strings and brass that make for a refreshing change from Oasis’s fast, raucous norm.

In fact, it’s usually when Oasis departs from their standard template that they become more than a band that’s simply good to listen to when you want to get pumped. This is evidenced in the two songs previously mentioned and—yes, I’ll say it— “Wonderwall.” Whether you love or hate it, find it beautiful or maudlin, it is at least nice to listen to, heartfelt, and well-written.

Disc Two opens with more of the same. “Live Forever” displays a rather impressive falsetto, but the disc falters with the inclusion of “Acquiesce,” which—although a perfectly acceptable song in and of itself—adds nothing new to the listener’s impression of the band. “Songbird” is your standard love song, but it sounds pretty and is impressive in that, were I to hear it on the radio, I would never think it was by Oasis. The high point of the second disc is the closing epic “Don’t Look Back In Anger.” I will admit this is my favorite song by Oasis, so my judgment may be clouded when I say that the second disc totally rules.

Stop the Clocks is an expert demonstration of Oasis’s sound as well as a good introduction to the group. My only complaint is that “All Around the World” is not included, though it also suffers from being two minutes longer than is necessary. The album will be nothing new to Oasis fans, but for those whose curiosity was piqued by hearing Oasis on the radio, or just want “Don’t Look Back In Anger” on their computers, it’s worth a listen.