Music25YL: Oasis, Poe, Smashing Pumpkins, Pulp and More

A blue background containing planets, and a centered gold star with a turn of the century silent film star styled woman bashfully proceeding from it.

Every month, we look back at the music from 1995 to explore why these albums are still relevant to us 25 years later. This month brings us Oasis’ (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, Deftones’ Adrenaline, Black Grape’s It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah, Poe’s Hello, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Mr. Bungle’s Disco Volante, and Pulp’s Different Class.

Oasis- (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?

A street, with buildings exactly on both sides of it, one person walking with his back to the camera, and one blurry figure walking towards him. By Matthew Mansell

For a band that snorted more coke then Scarface, Oasis did inspire a lot of wishy-washy ballads. After “Wonderwall” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” became ubiquitous on radio, every other British Indie band tried to write a ballad that could be played on both the youth-orientated Radio 1 and middle-aged Radio 2. Some imitators crashed and burn— Starsailor, Embrace—, some had continued success— Coldplay, Snow Patrol—but few had Noel Gallagher’s intuitive ear for memorable phrases that sounded cool but meant nothing—“after all, you’re my Wonderwall”— or the ability to turn a pedestrian moment into something profound—“stand up beside the fireplace, take that look from off your face”.

For all the cocksure arrogance that became Oasis’s trademark (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? is not an album that takes itself too seriously.  Critics describing Oasis as Beatles pastiche were missing the joke—although as their career continued it seemed Oasis forgot it too. The lazy lovers of “Wonderwall” are hardly going to waste time on originality if you can just cite three Beatles references and be done with it. “Don’t Look Back In Anger” feels like a hand-me-down version of “Imagine”: Lennon’s bedroom politics distorted through the eyes of the selfish dreamer with an acoustic guitar, perched on the edge of his bed, wanting the world for himself. These songs are so universally appealing because they make a virtue of their irrelevance; don’t beat yourself up about not reinventing the wheel, accept it and move on.

Noel was always a more guarded songwriter on Oasis albums than on B-sides, hiding in-between the wordplay. He has said in interviews that he doesn’t know what the gloriously strung-out “Champagne Supernova” is about. He might not have the answer, but his working out is spectacular. The track yawns to life with the sweet notes of the melodica lulling you into a false sense of security, before cymbals crash and stinging reverb give the chorus an abrupt, but welcome, lift-off. Liam’s matter-of-fact tone brings tragedy to modest dreams being crushed: “’cause people believe that they’re gonna get away for the summer”.

Easily imitated but never beaten, Liam’s powerful howl doesn’t sacrifice expressiveness for volume: chewing up the words and spitting out pure grit on “Morning Glory”, suddenly changing gear from cheeky insolence to whispering Neil Young softness midway through “Roll With It”, the sardonic way he holds onto the vowels on “Some Might Say”, the breezy way he delivers the cheeky Carry On punchlines on “She’s Electric”.  Liam is a true bona fide rockstar, and one of the most original vocalists this country has ever produced, with all the danger and nonchalance that role should always entail.

The album isn’t all gold. The glam march of “Hello” is more an overture then a song:  showcasing producer Owen Morris’s bombastic use of compression. And “Cast No Shadow” is more interesting as a musical footnote—it’s about The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft—than to listen to.

But it doesn’t really matter. (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? has five songs which could legitimately be called anthems of a generation. Their genius is evident in their staying power. Watching “Don’t Look Back in Anger” being sung in wake of the Manchester Arena bombing was an incredibly moving example of how these songs have gone beyond the Indie disco to become part of the fabric of English culture. Oasis may revere the past, but on Morning Glory, at least, they are not beholden to it. Who wouldn’t want that type of swagger?

Deftones- Adrenaline

An image of a small light pink rubber dropper tool on a white background.By Caemeron Crain

When I was first introduced to Deftones’ Adrenaline, it was their only album that had been released. Looking back at the dates, I think this must have been in 1996, as I recall clearly my cousin Dan putting the album on in the musty attic that served as our room in the house the family had rented for a summer vacation in the Thousand Islands of New York.

It grabbed me immediately. I felt it was like nothing I had heard before, with its crunchy guitars and the way that Chino Moreno’s vocals ranged from a whisper to a melodic refrain to raspy scream. It’s not that I hadn’t heard metal before, it’s that I hadn’t heard metal like this. I always resisted the term Nu Metal when it came to Deftones, probably because I never really cared for Korn and straight out despised bands like Limp Bizkit (still do). But it’s true that there are some rap elements on Adrenaline and I would certainly affirm that their sound was novel.

Deftones’ music has slowly mellowed over the years, and while I continue to appreciate it, I have to admit that my interest began to wane with the self-titled album, and I have hardly given everything after that a proper listen. I revisited the self-titled album recently, and have grown to like it far more than I did when it came out. I expect the same would go for the albums that have come out since, including the recently released Ohms.

But it didn’t even take a full listen for me to be hooked on Adrenaline. I returned from our family trip and bought it the first chance I got (along with Life of Agony’s River Runs Red, which Dan had also exposed me to—it was a good time for discovering music).Returning to it periodically over the years, and now, 25 years later, the album strikes me just as powerfully as it did then, if not more so. It’s a masterpiece. And I’m not even sure I think it is the best Deftones album.

Black Grape – It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah

A painting of a green skinned meloncolie man with purple lips, black hair, and sunglasses containing white text of the band name in one lens area and the album name in the other lens area.By Chris Flackett

If ever a man’s come back from the dead more times than Dracula, then it’s Shaun Ryder—figuratively and literally. Back in 1995, nobody expected Ryder’s new group Black Grape to even last a day, never mind achieve the success of his previous group, the Happy Mondays (whose drummer’s parents I once lived next door to, fact fans!) The Mondays fell apart amidst a mess of serious drug abuse and arguments over royalties, not to mention Ryder’s increasingly difficult behaviour. Now he had taken up with rapper Kermit, a well-known figure on the Manchester drug scene. Surely this was going to end in tears?

Thankfully for everyone involved, It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah was a critical and commercial triumph, yielding two top 10 singles whilst landing itself on top of the UK album charts for two weeks straight. Oasis might have been dominating the charts of the time, with Noel being massively in awe of his elder Ryder, but Shaun and co. proved they were still as relevant to the musical climate as ever.

Listening to Straight now, it actually sounds more relevant and more prescient than the backwards-looking albums of Oasis, Pulp, Suede and Blur of the time (not to say that I don’t like those albums). Expanding on how the Mondays had married their indie-rock stylings to then-contemporary dance music sounds and production on their biggest album, Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, to create something completely fresh and forward-looking, Straight took the swaggering grooves of late-‘60s Stones and enlivened them with hip-hop, dance and trip-hop trappings that were much more than window dressing. Indeed, this irresistibly funky and day-glo melting pot of modern indie and dance music was akin to some kind of ‘90s Mancunian take on Parliament, Shaun Ryder acting as some kind of Northern English beatnik version of George Clinton presiding over this glorious music that was neither truly ‘black’ or ‘white’ and was all the better for it.

“Reverend Black Grape” accuses Pope Plus XII of collaborating with the Nazis over a swaggering beat and addictive harmonica riff; “In the Name of the Father” rocks a sitar sample and big time beat for Ryder to claim he’s got the holy spirit and “Neil Armstrong/Astronaut/He had balls bigger than King Kong”; “Kelly’s Heroes” is pure Brit-pop with an air-punching chorus denouncing the concept of heroes when most men can’t live up to the role, while cheekily stating that Jesus was Batman; and “A Big Day in the North”, with its doleful house piano and mournful horn sample, and “Shake Well Before Opening” with its tough bass-driven groove, employ big hip-hop beats and suggest time spent listening to Blue Lines-era Massive Attack. Not to mention “Submarine” with its “Sympathy For the Devil groove” and its steals from the melody and lyrics of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”.

The whole effect is kaleidoscopic and, much like that punkily altered photo of terrorist Carlos the Jackal, is day-glo and outfitted in outlaw chic. It may never have gotten as good as this musically for Ryder again (discounting his Gorillaz collaboration), but this is the sound of a man taking his second chance and smashing it out of the park, and doing so by having the most fun imaginable. Sounds good to me!

Poe- Hello

A round white ball contains the blue letters of Poe, and a star-shaped cutout inside the O reveals the singer's face looking to the left.By John Bernardy

I’ve loved Poe’s debut album Hello since it hit the radio between 1995 and 1996. The bassline of “Angry Johnny” is so good I stole it into one of my own early songwriting moments, and I hunted down the singles versions of this album’s songs years later when I learned they existed. Hello has never left my memory. That said, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the gulf between its victim-centered lyrics and its highly listenable dance tones.

The album is dressed up in catchy hip hop beats and sweaty basslines that live in your bones, but it veers from slinky sexy to angry violent, which makes it really difficult to read which way to go with it. When in doubt, go both ways, because the album sure does.  I think Hello is a series of songs about how alluring and scary it is to be involved with an unpredictable, dangerous, mentally abusive person.

Trigger Happy Jack” sums up the album’s setting better than the rest: “Can’t talk to a psycho like a normal human being.” Except it’s in a catchy chorus with gritty guitars, followed by more goes-both-ways lyrics: “Trigger Happy Jack is gonna blow / but I’m gonna get off / before you go.” Does she get off sexually, or does she need to get off the train of that relationship before her partner explodes in some form of rage? Again, the answer is “both”. Poe compares the mood swings to both Jedi mind tricks and a collision on the road. The character in Poe’s song knows the person she’s involved with is trouble, but also irresistible.

This theme continues all over the place, from “Angry Johnny” where she’s going to “blow [him] / away”, to “Junkie” where she admits she’s a “junkie for [his] love”. But once in a while we get a glimpse of the girl who first got into the relationship, like in the ballad “Beautiful Girl.” It begins with “Someone’s gotta hear this” and seems to be a message to the girl who’s since become trapped. The singer calls her a “beautiful stranger” as if she can’t recognize that part of herself, and/or who she’s become.

The album’s protagonist is trying to find herself from in the middle of a relationship tornado, and based on the songs “Hello” and “Angry Johnny” and their grooves, I’d say Hello is set somewhere between the character’s acceptance and action. Because there are rock versions of the two songs as well, and those contain the same lyrics but are housed in song frames made of pure aggression and anger. I encourage you to listen to both versions if you can find them, to see how the arrangements change the intention behind the lyrics, because it really changes things. It shows you a woman who can recognize her bad boy and accept his behavior, or completely destroy him for what he did to her.

This album wasn’t sold as a journey of a woman through her troubles—probably because so many albums were coming out right about now with “angry rocker chick” as its tagline. Instead, it was seen as a sexy-quirky anomaly. An eccentric buried treasure with some catchy songs that’ll make you smile when you hear them again sometime. But five years later when Poe finally released her masterpiece Haunted, I was not surprised in the slightest by its quality. Because Poe’s been at this level all along.

Next: The Smashing Pumpkins, Mr. Bungle and Pulp

Written by TV Obsessive

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