A friend of mine once described how his toddler son, after building miniature empires with his Legos, would preside over them, flying toy planes and rockets and whatnot through their airspace, humming and singing his own little Wagnerian soundtrack. He'd never actually heard Wagner, my friend was sure; it was merely that, snug and cute in his Dr. Denton's, he was grooving on some archetypal memory, recognizing, somewhere in his preschool subconscious, the delicious possibilities of world domination and absolute power.
But he was just a toddler. What's Oasis' excuse? "Be Here Now," the band's third album, is a massive, angry woolly mammoth of a record, sounding less like pop music than some kind of sonic fantasy conquest. Where are the love songs? Heck, where's the love? Yesterday, Oasis wanted to be the Beatles; today it sounds like they'd rather beat the crap out of them. Forget that everyone knows that Liam and Noel Gallagher, the masterminds behind Oasis, are egotistical jerks in real life -- "Be Here Now" sounds like the kind of record only true bullies could make. It swaggers into our airspace with its ranting oversized guitars, its bawling lyrics, its poster-painted symbolism. Dense, airless and cheerless, it leaves no room for us to breathe. It would as soon choke us off as win us over.
To anyone who fell in love with Oasis' last record, "(What's the Story) Morning Glory" (and there are lots of us -- enough to make the Gallaghers believe, like John Lennon, that they had the potential to become bigger than Jesus), "Be Here Now" is bound to be a crushing disappointment. There was loads of macho arrogance in "Morning Glory," but there was a certain amount of playfulness, too. You could criticize the Gallaghers for their flagrant copping of Beatles riffs, but you couldn't deny how joyfully they went about it. They were like greedy trick-or-treaters in pirate costumes, and the Beatles' whole world was theirs for the plundering -- but at least they seemed to know they'd snuck off with some real treasure. And you could always uncover at least a shred of vulnerability beneath their cockiness. "Maybe you're gonna be the one that saves me," Liam sang in "Wonderwall," coming off more like a human being than an ironclad android, if only because he sounded as if he couldn't bring himself to admit that he'd like to be saved.
But on "Be Here Now," Oasis have built a wall of sound around themselves -- they don't seem to care to reveal anything personal or even halfway believable. The lyrics are aggressively fanciful but ultimately empty-headed: "Wash your face in the morning sun/Flash your pan at the song that I'm singing" ("Be Here Now"); "Made a meal and threw it up on Sunday/I've got a lot of things to learn" ("Stand By Me"). Worse yet, "Be Here Now" sounds like a record made by amateurs out to wow us. There's no dynamic balance: The album starts out huge and only gets more inflated. The material is badly conceived and poorly written, and all the songs run in together. Noel's big, burly guitars on the first single, "D'You Know What I Mean," are indistinguishable from those on "All Around the World." The band tries to vary the texture by adding strings in "Stand By Me" and "All Around the World" -- but again, they're simply very big strings. Never a shrinking violet, Liam nonetheless has to work extra-hard to compete with these mighty sounds -- and so he ends up braying most of the lyrics.
"Be Here Now" has no heart. Only one ballad (and it's a pretty loud ballad), "Don't Go Away," betrays any sense of pain or uncertainty or anguish. It's also the only song on the record whose guitars, relatively elastic and delicate, don't threaten to mow you down. But almost every other song here is appallingly faceless, and some are numbingly ugly. The lyrics of "Stand By Me" offer a potentially intriguing contradiction: "If you're leaving, will you take me with you?/I'm tired of talking on my phone/There is one thing I can never give you/My heart can never be your home." But Liam doesn't sing the words as if he understands the inherent conflict between the first two lines and the last. The verse starts out as a plea for delivery from loneliness, but ends up like a modern version of "Baby, Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me." Liam plays it straight all the way through: He's the ultradesirable rock star who can't be tied down. He'll just use you, then he'll set you free -- sure makes you want to queue up, doesn't it, girls?
There's no honesty, no human frailty in "Be Here Now" -- only invincibility. And although you can't blame Oasis for trying to make a very different record from "(What's the Story) Morning Glory," "Be Here Now" is so facile, such a slimy, bald bid for superstardom, that it seems like nothing so much as a betrayal. Maybe Oasis are finding out just how hard it is to be bigger than Jesus. But if you have to be a bigger asshole than Judas to make it, maybe it's just not worth it.