Be Here Now

It's tempting to write off Oasis's third CD as a vague facsimile of the two that preceded it; Definitely Maybe and (What's the Story) Morning Glory? still echo loudly in the pop consciousness, their hit singles as familiar as your own heartbeat. Even now, it feels as though "D'You Know What I Mean?" -- the first single and video off Be Here Now -- has been around forever. Though it's only a few weeks old, it plays like a two-year-old relic, the fraternal twin of "Wonderwall." But that's precisely what Noel Gallagher wants -- for Oasis to conjure echoes of its own yesterdays, for you to hear his records and think beautiful Beatles thoughts while humming along to his music and perfectly rendered daydreams, even before you've heard them.

Oasis isn't the greatest rock and roll band in the world, merely the most cynical and romantic -- a pastiche of perfect moments from the '60s, Rubber Soul made over and over again till they work the Kinks out. At least Noel is shameless about his references: His is nothing if not a world of other people's songs, his lyric sheet this time 'round containing references to "the long and winding road," "blood on the tracks," "the fool on the hill," "in the midnight hour," "helter skelter" and "don't look back." But this isn't brazen plagiarism. These are just easy pop-culture shortcuts Noel happens to know, ones he uses as naturally as he might the words "and," "the" and "I"; they're part of his genetic makeup, the code in his rock and roll DNA. Noel, a man who will forever confuse arrogance with charm, does nothing to hide his fetishes. Like the song ("I Hope, I Think, I Know" from Be Here Now) says: "We beg and steal and borrow."

In providing Q magazine with a track-by-track explanation of Be Here Now, he mentions the Beatles or their songs six times, with other references to the Stones, Burt Bacharach, Mott the Hoople, T. Rex, the Buzzcocks and the Small Faces. He's more pop fan than pop star, and if he were American, Oasis would likely rank with Olivia Tremor Control and Eric Matthews and Yum-Yum as the indieground's retro-fitted pop heroes. But he's English, his mouth is as enormous as his talent and he wants to own the world. Even more so than brother Liam, Noel knows what John Lennon meant about being bigger than Jesus Christ. But you must hand it to Noel: He knows he's full of shit, so much so that he demands you don't take him too seriously. "I ain't never spoke to God / And I ain't never been to heaven," Liam sings, mimicking his brother's words, on "My Big Mouth." "But you assumed I knew the way / Even though the map was given."

And so Be Here Now (its title alone is more a command than an invitation) finds Oasis again crafting easy-listening rock and roll, music that gives only as much as you ask of it. Many of Oasis's delights are strictly surface ones -- the guitar swells and thrilling harmonies and Wurlitzer kick of "The Girl in the Dirty Shirt," the string-section heartbreak of "Stand by Me" and "Don't Go Away," the orchestral reprise of "All Around the World." Noel understands that pop music works best when it brushes against your skin on its way to your heart. And so he creates epic songs (only three songs of Be Here Now's dozen run short of five minutes, and one, "All Around the World," clocks in at 9:20) that reverberate with many pop highlights all at once. Don't like something you hear now? Wait a minute -- here comes "Honky Tonk Woman" or "Strawberry Fields" or "All the Young Dudes." Or "Wonderwall." Or "Live Forever."

Just like its predecessors, Be Here Now doesn't really rock. Only "Fade In/Out," with its guest appearance by Johnny Depp on rudimentary slide guitar, seems overcome with the need to turn it up and turn it out. Noel's not obsessed with punch; he's obsessed with penning love songs and breakup anthems, the gooey stuff of which pop is made. His words are familiar, simple, everyday: "I need more time yes I need more time / Just to make things right." "We're gonna make a better day / All around the world, you've got to spread the word." "If I stumble catch me when I fall." They resonate with optimism, affection, even joy; for all their brashness, there's little-boy wonder underneath the Gallagher brothers' rock-star exteriors.

Noel's so in love with music that perhaps his off-stage arrogance exists to mask the soft side, the guy who writes such lyrics as "Maybe the songs that we sing are wrong / Maybe the dreams that we dream are gone" (from "It's Gettin' Better (Man!!!)"). Indeed, when Liam sings, "I know it's gonna be okay" at the jubilant end of "All Around the World," with trumpets blaring and guitars soaring and tambourine jangling, it's not a campy moment at all -- fact is, you'll find fewer things as heartfelt in all of rock and roll. (*** 1/2)

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