Definitely Maybe is an utterly phenomenal album, the kind that rocks hard without falling back on the tropes that had already become a bit tired by 1994.
Some artists take time to hone and develop their sound before they come up with something that is distinctly theirs. Oasis do not fit into this category. They arrived essentially as they would be, an inevitable wave of guitar distortion and inimitable swagger the likes of which hadn’t been seen in decades. Plenty of aspiring bands want to live the rock star lifestyle and will do anything to make that happen, but for a brief period, Oasis managed to pull it off without making themselves look like idiots in the process (though that would come later). That largely comes down to the songs they wrote to introduce themselves to the world: Definitely Maybe is an utterly phenomenal album, the kind that rocks hard without falling back on the tropes that had already become a bit tired by 1994. In essence, Oasis found a new way to become stars.
A key aspect of Definitely Maybe is the perspective from which the songs come from. There are elements of rock star fantasy present in Noel Gallagher’s songs, but his narrators aren’t necessarily wish-fulfillment proxies; instead, they seem to be people like him, working-class louts who were told at a young age that they didn’t have much of a future. The characters in Definitely Maybe want to get out, but they’re willing to do so any way they can, even if that means that they only escape in their heads. Opener “Rock n’ Roll Star” is the band’s mission statement in this regard, a five-minute burst of pure Mancunian gusto in which Liam Gallagher admits that “in my mind, my dreams are real” and that “Tonight/ I’m a rock n’ roll star.” It’s less the words of an actual rock god and more the words of a lad going out on the town, putting aside his workaday life and choosing to carry himself like he’s the man just for tonight. It’s a mental escape that recurs elsewhere on the album, such as on “Cigarettes & Alcohol,” the band’s seeming ode to pure hedonism. It’s that need to get away that acts as the driving force behind the album’s most aggressive moments (such as the working-class adrenaline rush of “Bring It On Down”), and it becomes a cause for joy on the album’s two best songs, “Live Forever” and “Slide Away.” Both could be interpreted as love songs, and they’re definitely the most sincere moments on Definitely Maybe, but they are less about romance and more about breaking free of a malaise to achieve a better existence.
While the lyrical intent behind Definitely Maybe transcends its time, the music is a little more difficult to pin down. One needs to look at the musical scene that Oasis arrived in just to get what a kick upside the head the album really was. Brit-pop, as it existed in 1994, was pulling from glam and early New Wave to establish itself, and the likes of Blur and Suede had reference points in their music that played largely to music aficionados. Oasis, on the other hand, played to a more mainstream crowd with their style: aside from openly worshipping the Beatles, the band also embraced the big, macho stomp of stadium glam like The Sweet and Gary Glitter, rather than the damaged art-rock of Roxy Music. Oasis wanted to rock, yes, but they also wanted to sound gargantuan, and Definitely Maybe accomplishes that goal and then some. There are elements of the overwhelming guitar onslaught of shoegaze in “Columbia” and “Slide Away”, but instead of using noise to obfuscate, the band utilize it as a weapon to drive their cocksure stride ever forward. What’s more, the band’s sound here wasn’t the classic rock pastiche that it would eventually become. While the psychedelic swirl of guitars was the driving focal point of the album, Definitely Maybe doesn’t sound like the band is trying to will the ‘60s back into existence like they were on later releases. The arrangements and dynamics between the band members are all rooted in ideas that were of their moment in time, even if they weren’t ideas shared by their London-based contemporaries. Funnily enough, that hesitance to immediately jump into classic rock reproduction is what makes Definitely Maybe a timeless album even today.
Nowadays, it’s hard not to have one’s perception of Oasis marred by the vulgar farce that is the ongoing public feud between the Gallagher brothers, but should the dust ever finally settle in the tabloids, the band will have a legacy to be proud of, one that starts with Definitely Maybe, a debut album that ranks among the best ever and that hasn’t diminished with age. If it ever seems strange to you that Oasis became as big as they were, play a few tracks on Definitely Maybe and watch your skepticism diminish.