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Oasis: what’s the story with the brickwalling glory?

  • Some might say that it was Noel Gallagher’s songwriting genius that propelled Oasis to international stardom. They took out an Ivor Novello for “Songwriters of the Year” in 1995, the same year that their sophomore album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? went champagne supernova.

    A year later Noel Gallagher took out the very same gong for his contributions to the songwriting world. To this day I wonder why. Had those same judges wandered off to Camden High Street by the time (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’s closing track lumbered into view?

    “How many special people change
    How many lives are living strange
    Where were you when we were getting high?
    Slowly walking down the hall
    Faster than a cannon ball
    Where were you while we were getting high?”

    Faster than a cannon ball, huh? Each and every line = total bobbins. Someone needs to exhume Ivor Novello to make sure he’s stopped turning. Are we really to believe that it was the more sensible Gallagher’s wordsmithery that made them one of the most popular British bands of all time?

    I have a different theory as to why Oasis became so darn popular. Actually, I have two theories.

    oasis_wtsmg_DR_scores

    The first is LOUDNESS. (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? remains one of the worst early offenders of dynamic range compression. The Dynamic Range database pegs its average score at 5 with a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 10. But you don’t need numbers to tell you that the mastering is brickwalled. You don’t even need a good stereo system. Listening on Apple earbuds and a smartphone is exhausting enough.

    You couldn’t spend more than ten minutes in any Oxford Street clothing store in the mid-90s without being pummelled to death by “Wonderwall”. If that didn’t kill you, the Blur-duelling “Roll With It” certainly would.

    The cringeworthy lyrics I can just about get past but when combined with the headache-inducing mastering – especially noticeable over a good headphone rig – I’m eventually forced to reach for the stop button before taking a lie down in a darkened room.

    Here’s what opening track “Hello” looks like on the original CD from 1995:

    hello_1995_CD

    And here’s “Some Might Say” from that same CD rip:

    somemightsay_1995_CD

    Nasty.

    Proving that hi-res formats can’t possibly restore the dynamics lost during mastering, here’s “Some Might Say” ripped to 24bit/96kHz FLAC from the 2003 SACD:

    somemightsay_2003_SACD

    It’s quieter but still brickwalled to the moon and back.

    Word has it that only the stereo layer suffers such intense dynamic compression and that the multi-channel layer comes off much better. This seems to be borne out by the DR scores in the above table.

    Perhaps it’s a UK thing. The Japanese CD single issue of “Some Might Say” yields a greater dynamic range. Just look at those never-before-seen peaks:

    somemightsay_japan_CDsingle

    It would appear that whoever mastered this in Japan was far less determined for it to be the loudest song on the radio.

    For Oasis’ Chasing The Sun re-issue program, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? was remastered at Metropolis Studios by Ian Cooper and Andy “Hippy” Baldwin using PMC BB5 XBD A reference monitors. With high quality active loudspeakers at their disposal and the album’s original producer Owen Morris dropping in to supervise, here was an opportunity for Cooper and Baldwin to the right the wrongs of the 90s and issue a master more in keeping with the iTunes Sound Check times. Hopefully they’d take the lead from their Japanese counterparts.

    Droppping US$30 over at HDTracks gets you 24bit/44.1kHz versions of all songs included on the 2014 ‘3CD’ Deluxe Edition physical release – almost 3 hours of music. Even if you don’t believe a 24bit version would sound any better than the CD, you’d probably assume that HDTracks would offer the best master available. I did.

    Dropping the freshly remastered “Some Might Say” into Audacity I hoped for something at least as dynamic as the aforementioned 1995 Japanese CD. This is what I saw:

    somemightsay_remaster_HDTracks

    Still brickwalled – can you believe it? The Beatles in Mono this is not. Perhaps Sony was concerned that the man in the street would be turned off by an apparently quieter release and opt to stick with his 1995 CD instead of ponying up for the Deluxe Edition remaster?

    Not only should this give you the reader pause for thought in buying this new version digitally but it might also cause you to rethink that vinyl purchase. Especially as the 2LP set contains only the original 12 songs and none of the bonus material.

    Which brings us to my second theory as to why Oasis managed to straddle both critical and commercial acclaim, at least for a while.

    Like fellow Britpoppers Suede, Oasis B-sides were knockout, often eclipsing their lead singles by a significant margin. For this music nut, this is where Noel Gallagher’s songwriting talents really shine through.

    Fans jumping on WTSMG lead (CD) single Some Might Say were treated to three additional songs that easily bested the lead cut: “Acquiesce”, “Talk Tonight” and “Headshrinker”. How these songs never made the long-player proper we’ll likely never know. Perhaps Oasis were then mirroring the New Order tactic of keeping the best stuff away the album.

    The Roll With It single begat the epic, driving “Rocking Chair” and (the now unlistenable) Wonderwall unleashed “The Masterplan” and catchy-as-hell “Round Are Way” [sic] unto the world.

    Each and every one of these B-sides is a pearler. Their inclusion alongside a whole bevy of bonus material on the Deluxe Edition of WTSMG is why I’m looking past the dynamic range compression; if the music moves you, not even studio fuckwittery like this can diminish its impact.

    Here’s hoping b-side compilation The Masterplan gets better remaster treatment than this.

    Further information: WTSMG 3-CD Deluxe Edition at Amazon | WTSMG 24-bit Deluxe Edition at HDTracks

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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