Calling something “garage rock” is almost always disingenuous, unless you’re literally 14 years old and listening to your friends play guitar in their actual garage. And, nobody would dream of calling rock legends Oasis “garage rock,” in 1994, simply because the sonic criteria they’re forever judged by is Britpop. And yet, if we throw out everything we know about Oasis (which for some Americans might be very easy) from the perspective of alternative rock Oasis were, briefly, the best garage rock band of the 90s. Or, to be more precise, they started that way, and their first album 1994’s Definitely Maybe is the best garage rock album that’s never allowed to be seen as a garage rock album.
On August 29, 1994, Oasis released their first album, Definitely Maybe, which would set the template for all the Oasis-type melodies, choruses, hooks, and guitar solos that would follow on each of their subsequent albums. Every big song from a post-1994 Oasis album has a platonic ancestor on this album: “Live Forever” was “Wonderwall” before Wonderwall. “Slide Away” was the early “Champagne Supernova,” while “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” represents pretty much all their other big singles up until 2008, minus some of the ballads. But, the big difference between Definitely Maybe and literally all their other albums is the specific sound of the record. It sounds like a live album and a dirty, raw one at that. And that’s because it kind of was.
Today, songwriter Noel Gallagher often mentions that Definitely Maybe’s fuzzy, chaotic sound was created because the band recorded it in a room together, as though it was a live gig. This is essentially true, but Definitely Maybe was actually recorded at least three times; once in 1993 at Monnow Valley in Wales, and again in 1994 at both the Pink Museum in Liverpool and Sawmills Studios in Cornwall. One of the earliest problems was that early takes from the Monnow Valley sessions simply sounded too clean, and not representative of the raw energy Oasis. Overall, Noel’s solution was to have the band play together in the same room, and at least initially, not isolate the instruments from each other. Noel has often said he probably wrote younger brother Liam Gallagher’s vocal parts in a higher register simply so Liam could be heard above the din of the rest of the band. It doesn’t get much more garage rock than that!
That said, the final version of Definitely Maybe isn’t a true live album, and is, in many ways, the shared vision of all three different recording attempts and a variety of different producers. Although almost everything from the 1993 Monnow Valley sessions was thrown out, the version of “Slide Away” that made it onto the record comes from those sessions. As one of the slower, more ballad-y songs on the record, “Slide Away” rejects the dirtier, raw approach of “Cigarettes and Alcohol” or “Bring It On Down,” which, through the lens of playlists and time travel, makes it almost sound like it belongs on a later Oasis album.
And, interestingly, although Noel Gallagher had written a huge majority of Definitely Maybe before recording it, arguably the most important break-out song of the album was written during the recording sessions. According to Dave Scott, who worked with the band during the Pink Museum sessions — and before Owen Morris remixed the whole thing — Noel invented “Supersonic” on the fly in the studio. In one interview, Scott said: “Noel wanted a drink before he wrote the lyrics for Liam. He said whiskey gave him a bad head and beer was too heavy. I said that I’d just returned from France on the plane and had drunk G+T as there was no Vodka (my usual) on the plane. The effect of the G+T was really buzzy, almost speedy. So, Noel got some G+T…[hence the line “feeling supersonic, give me gin and tonic]…Liam read them, listened to Noel’s guide vocal melody, and did the recording in one take with a drop-in for a mistake in the middle. Amazing!”
Amazing is right. As a live band, Oasis were an underground sensation before they signed with Creation Records in 1993, an influential rock label already famous for repping bands like My Bloody Valentine. But, it’s hard to believe that Definitely Maybe would work without the stomping attitude of “Supersonic.” Although “Supersonic” is track 6 on the CD version — and therefore the first track on Side 2 of the cassette version — its April 1994 release heralded the arrival of Oasis in the mainstream, big time.
Almost three decades later, it’s hard to find a 90s rock song that feels the way “Supersonic” does. The sneering, nonsensical lyrics essentially justify one of Oasis’s earliest nicknames: The Sex Beatles, while the actual sound of the song is deceptively heavy. It’s effortlessly cool but complex and weird enough to become a classic. It’s also the perfect ambassador for the actual album, because it’s great, without being the actual best song on the album. (That would be “Live Forever.”)
Some might say Oasis never made a better album than Definitely Maybe, including some members of Oasis. Whether this is true or not is pretty much up for debate. But, in terms of an album that captures a raw angsty, youthful energy, Definitely Maybe is utterly unlike any of their other records. Like American grunge bands of the time, Definitely Maybe sounded dirty and angry. But in opposition to grunge, its lyrical content was shockingly upbeat. From “Live Forever,” to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” to “Columbia,” Definitely Maybe was, and still is, the antithesis of cynicism. It’s a record that reminds us that irony is okay, but maybe, positive affirmations of self-belief, fuzzy guitar feedback, and a little bit of sunshiiiiiiine, are all you need to feel amazing.