Alex Niven – 33 1/3 – Definitely Maybe

definitely maybe cover

For so many people, Definitely Maybe was and continues to be a vital, visceral piece of art, the start of something new and exciting. Taking it as not just a collection of eleven songs but a cultural artefact, Alex Niven’s analysis of the album, in the 33 1/3 series, focuses upon the elements of earth, water wind and fire, both exploring it through the quartet as well as almost equating it with them. A truly great album, lyrically, sonically, socially, politically, and economically the debut from the Mancunian band was a game changer and a manifestation of games changing. Music reveals a lot.

Anger in songs like Supersonic comes from the Thatcher legacy, dizzy exploration in Columbia could be an example of the unknown and bewildering future many were faced with, the buzzing distortion of Bring It On Down speaking in the same frantic language of disarray that the punk movement had. The ‘utopian language of pop and the wild disparities of early 90s britain’ are connected on the album in a way that became symbolic for a destination.

Subversive and countercultural, as well as everyman, Oasis became the totem of the underdog, the rebel made good, the working class hero, soaring from ‘misery and hardship to a place of towering hope and potential.’. The positions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ were immortalised in chords and rhythms. Gallagher may have eventually sold out, but that doesn’t stop his musical output being something transformative, exciting, and ultimately, wonderful. Niven is wonderfully artful in his loquacious description and analysis of Definitely Maybe, the wording he uses being beautiful and intelligent. Their hymn to friendship and belief Live Forever is described thus: ‘the wash of the guitar sound begins to gather…movement culminates in a wonderfully expressive legato guitar solo at the climax of the track, which rises with considerable grace to a repeated high E before shimmying back down the fretboard to finish alongside the chiming central F major seventh riff. This discussion floats in nostalgia and reverie, but is critical and penetrating, rather than simply flooded with adoration for this ‘ambiguously beautiful’ album.

Niven finishes with the assertion that the real legacy of the period as a time filled with moments ‘when we almost broke through to a higher plane of collective existence.’ Reading this book leaves one without any doubt about the power of music.

Published by Bloomsbury Academic and out now.

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