Definitely Maybe

Definitely Maybe

Oasis never did anything the easy way. Across a career stretching just short of two decades, the Manchester quintet was constantly teetering on the edge; chaos and calamity a crucial ingredient to what made them tick. It was no different with the creation of their debut Definitely Maybe but, for once, their problems had nothing to do with the turbulent relationship between Liam and Noel Gallagher. Despite possessing a collection of songs everyone within earshot could recognize as generational, here the formative Oasis suffered from the humdrum issue faced by many a new band lacking in studio experience: how to replicate their thrilling live alchemy on tape. Not that you’d ever know it from listening. Definitely Maybe seemed to arrive as a fully-formed modern classic, its swagger so effortless, its brilliance so unrelenting that it felt like it could have been knocked out in an afternoon. “Yes,” it seemed to say, “this album is here to change the game, what of it?” But behind the record lay a series of false starts that could have derailed Oasis long before the fateful final punch-up backstage in Paris in 2009. Oasis had already established themselves as a ferocious live proposition when they entered Monnow Valley Studio in Wales in January 1994 with the aim of knocking their debut out the park. Sensing correctly that the key lay in capturing the inexorable rush of their live performance, Noel had enlisted experienced soundman David Batchelor as producer, but the decision had backfired. Batchelor’s process of getting band members to lay down their parts separately had removed the abrasive edge from their sound, leaving the songs sounding inexplicably feeble when they should’ve been leaving you in a daze. In a sign of confidence at what should have been, the band’s label Creation sanctioned a new round of recording, binning off the original sessions at a cost of £50,000. This time, they had to make it work. At Sawmills Studio in Cornwall, the band’s live sound engineer Mark Coyle was tasked with getting the best out of them. Coyle treated it like an intimate gig, positioning the group in close proximity in one room to nail down the basic tracks, with Noel adding swathes of guitar overdubs afterwards. The resultant recordings were spiky and bristling—but not quite there yet. The big breakthrough came with the involvement of Owen Morris, who’d engineered on records by New Order, Billy Bragg, and Electronic. His daring mixes added an imposing dynamism to Oasis’ songs and he brought Liam back in to re-record some of his vocals, coaxing performances out of the singer that would establish him as the most intoxicating rock ’n’ roll voice of his generation. After all the hurdles, Oasis had got there. One of the most vital rock ’n’ roll records of all time was complete. From the barbed riffs of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” to the chiming, widescreen sing-along “Live Forever,” the T. Rex-y glam-punk of “Cigarettes & Alcohol” and the epic longing of “Slide Away,” Definitely Maybe was an album that blended ’60s yearning with a Sex Pistols sneer, pairing fervent anthems about escape and breaking out of mundanity with songs that sounded like you’d crash-landed right in the middle of a fevered, frantic night out. You didn’t want to go home. Released in August 1994, it reshaped the UK’s musical landscape, helping to usher in an era when indie rock dominated mainstream culture and Britpop ruled supreme. At the time, it became Britain’s fastest-selling debut album in history, and made Oasis superstars. Noel and Liam would never have an argument in private again. This is where it all began, an album that still sounds as unbridled and exhilarating as it did on first listen. It took a few attempts, but they cracked it in the end.

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