After its release 25 years ago, there are still very few albums that allow themselves to dream as unabashedly as English rock band Oasis’ “Definitely Maybe.” In a booklet released with the album’s 2014 remaster, lead guitarist Noel Gallagher said that he wrote most of its songs while “unemployed, in rented accommodations … living from one week to the next.” The dire conditions did not dampen his ambitions.
From start to finish “Definitely Maybe” rejects the possibility of settling for the everyday world around it, instead constantly leaping for the stars and quite often touching them. The formula worked, catapulting Oasis from nobodies into one of the biggest bands in the world — and the album still makes for a thrilling ride today.
The group wastes no time laying out their manifesto in the opening track “Rock n’ Roll Star,” a song about trying to escape an uninspiring life in Manchester. This track manages to encapsulate the album both sonically and lyrically. In terms of sound, Oasis would later become known for being hugely inspired by the Beatles, but the music on “Rock n’ Roll Star” is much heavier than that reputation would suggest, mixing elements of punk and psychedelic rock from the 80s with a penchant for wildly over-the-top guitar riffs to create a five-minute blast of pure energy.
Lyrically, the song wastes no time in racing with the album’s all-consuming obsession with stardom. It only takes 90 seconds for Liam Gallagher, the lead singer of the band, to belt out: “In my mind, my dreams are real / Now you’re concerned with the way I feel / Tonight I’m a rock ‘n’ roll star.” By the time the song stutters and fades into silence, it’s almost impossible not to believe him.
The next highlight comes on “Live Forever,” an optimistic summer ballad built on shuffling drums, punctuated by a searing guitar solo and dominated by the band’s yearning for the impossible. Even in the face of setbacks, “Live Forever” remains cheerful, with Liam observing “Maybe I will never be / All the things I want to be / Now is not the time to cry / Now’s the time to find out why.” It’s not a complex song, but “Live Forever” makes the powerful argument that rock doesn’t need to be angsty to be inspiring, a message which seems just as relevant in the age of Twenty One Pilots, Panic! At the Disco and Bandcamp indie as it must have been in the time of endless Nirvana wannabes.
Starting with “Columbia,” the album springs into full stride with a torrent of excellent tracks. “Columbia” is a gloriously catchy mess structured around relentlessly spiralling guitars, “yeah yeah yeahs” and a firmly-rooted rhythm section. As fun as “Columbia” is, the track is nonetheless immediately one-upped by “Supersonic.” Starting with pounding drums and a scraping guitar lingering along at an unhurried tempo, the song buries itself in layer after layer of self-confident euphoria, absurdist imagery and “Yellow Submarine” references to provide the album with a towering centerpiece.
When Liam Gallagher sings, “You could have it all / How much do you want it?” it seems clear enough that he’s already decided on his own answer, but the follow-up track “Bring it on Down” serves to settle any lingering doubts. On this simple, full-speed-ahead sprint of a song, Oasis expresses their disgust at the idea of settling for an exclusive status quo, singing, “You’re the outcast / You’re the underclass / But you don’t care because you’re living fast.” As they have already made clear, Oasis is unwilling to accept a prescribed outcast status.
Despite all the thrill of the album’s rags-to-riches story and the undeniable catchiness of its best songs, “Definitely Maybe” still has its flaws. Most notably, Oasis’ infatuation with massive anthems and bored dismissal of everyday life make it difficult to find introspection in any of these songs. Although this often results in inspiring, shout-along songs, it leaves some tracks feeling curiously hollow and leaves the album, as a whole, somewhat one-note, an issue which isn’t helped by the band’s strict adherence to a standard formula of two guitars, bass and drums.
But even if it is an imperfect album recorded a full 25 years ago, “Definitely Maybe” is still worth a listen. By consistently combining catchy hooks with a fervent conviction that, regardless of what comes — political disappointment, social marginalization, general malaise — “We’ll find a way / Of chasing the sun,” Oasis created a record which still ripples with excitement today. Simple? Maybe. Exhilarating? Definitely.