Released twenty five years ago, ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’ is an album that is particularly difficult to write about. Polarising from its release, many hold it up as a bastion of great British Rock and Pop, while others view it as turgid, lumpen or vacuous. Most have heard it’s biggest singles ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back in .Anger’ dozens or even hundreds of times thanks to radio, television and in-store play. Almost everybody has an opinion on it, whether they have actually listened to it the whole way through in the last two decades or not. What follows is an argument that as a classic album ‘... Morning Glory?’ is deserving of the time taken to listen to it, but it certainly doesn’t mean you should like it.
Released at the midpoint of the 1990s, ‘...Morning Glory?’ is very much an album of its time. By 1995 the long drawn decline in heavy industry and the resultant unemployment of Thatcherite Britain had started making initial signals of having run its course. Acid House had come and mostly gone, but the ‘Moving On Up’ attitude had stuck around. The debut album by Oasis, ‘Definitely Maybe’ had played into this moment perfectly. Plenty has been written about the “Government artists” drawing the dole while setting the groundwork to write classic Indie Rock albums during the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Oasis being just one of them. Yet, as the ‘90s went on and the New Labour, Britpop friendly bubble began gaining traction, things were beginning to look brighter, lighter and bigger, if only in contrast to the preceding years.
It is in this climate, and plausibly only in this climate, that ‘Champagne Supernova’ became both a likely and an unlikely hit. Featuring an indecipherable lyrical theme, guitar riffs that sound like they’re from a Primal Scream B-side (even if the track does feature Paul Weller’s chops) and closing out an album that was filled with better and catchier songs, ‘Champagne Supernova’s’ success perfectly accentuates the unprecedented adulation Oasis received from their adoring public back in ‘95. All that is to say, this album may have seen a little hype throughout its lifetime. Yet, it’s an album beloved of many.
Media hype, at a time when the music press still felt relevant in broader culture, amped up an Oasis vs. Blur narrative that certainly fed into public perceptions. Yet the album was received with a lukewarm reception from the critics. Still, in the months immediately after the album's release huge numbers flocked to see the band perform at Earls Court, Maine Road, and Knebworth where nearly a quarter million would attend over two nights. Over the years since, at least when the brothers Gallagher could be persuaded to share a stage, many more have heard these songs; of which nearly all have been featured in live sets. Therein lies part of the reason so many hold a special place in their heart for this album; it’s an album that doesn’t make a lot of sense until you’re listening to its songs while half cut standing in a field along with thousands of other idiots.
The history of music over the last hundred years have proven that not all songs or albums need to be political, socially astute, or even very thoughtful to become classics. Indeed, they don’t need to be technically adept either. Time and again, through Jazz, Blues, Punk, Disco, House and Hip Hop we’ve found something joyful in dumb songs of love, loss and getting fucked up. This both explains the appeal of ‘...Morning Glory?’ As well as many of the criticisms it receives. It can be a little obvious, and in many ways that’s its selling point.
Between its “wonderwalls” and its “cannonballs” there are moments of weakness, humour, and wit. When Liam Gallagher sings “There are many things that I would like to say to you but I don't know how” on ‘Wonderwall’ the bass line descends and the simple, unadorned humanity of the song shines through. It may be simple, but it’s effective and affecting.
For better or worse, ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’ is music of the people. It’s not the most accomplished work, nor did it propel musical innovation or spark the formation of new genres or great works. Instead it helped a lot of people dance, sing, and hope for something better at a time where that was exactly what people wanted. As we look back with 25 years of hindsight we see the failed New Labour experiment, we see the bloated feuding that stripped the band to a caricature, and we see a world where tens of thousands of people singing along together is a distant hope rather than a reality. ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’ was very much a product of its time. It has gone on to become a classic because simple, dumb Rock ‘n’ Roll makes a lot of people happy, and that connection with music that speaks to us can transcend even the album itself. By speaking to a time and place that is getting ever more distant, this is an album worth giving a spin.