Oasis gets a lot of shit from critics for being ignorant louts, ripping off the most obvious elements of classic rock. Those charges aren’t completely unwarranted, but back before the band succumbed to their own coke-addled hubris and the general bloat of success, they had a lean and hungry sound best heard on Definitely Maybe, which is being celebrated with this massive three-disc 20th anniversary edition. It’s an amazingly self-assured, borderline arrogant, debut for a young band, but behind all the infighting and boorish press-baiting was a tightly rehearsed cadre of music geeks, led by Noel Gallagher and his penchant for stadium-sized melodies. It’s a cliché, but Definitely Maybe really does play like a collection of singles (except the lighthearted piss-take of “Digsy’s Diner”) that nicked bits of T.Rex (“Cigarettes and Alcohol”), The Sex Pistols (“Bring It On Down”) and The Beatles (everything else), adding their own “live for tonight” vibe that resonated deeply with a hedonistic British youth culture that loved The Stone Roses, Primal Scream and The La’s a few years earlier. You can pretty much throw a dart in the dark and hit a winner here, but my personal favorites are “Rock’n’Roll Star,” “Up In The Sky,” and “Shakermaker” (with a vocal melody lifted from an old Coke commercial). These songs won’t make you any smarter, but they rock, and that’s good enough.
It wouldn’t be an anniversary reissue without some extras, and there’s plenty here, including remastered sound, new liner notes, period photos, and two discs of extra material. Disc 2 collects b-sides from the album’s four singles. Remember, this was an era when CD singles were big sellers and groups often recorded an album’s worth of b-sides for every album. These b-sides range in quality from pointless (a live cover of “I Am The Walrus”), to curiously atypical (“D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman”), to great (“Fade Away” probably should have been on the album). The third disc tacks on 17 previously unreleased songs, mostly live recordings, demos and acoustic renditions of album tracks. It’s an interesting companion piece, but not particularly essential or revelatory. The first two discs, however, are.