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POP MUSIC | Checking In With . . . Oasis' Noel Gallagher

Starting Over, on a Humbler Note

March 19, 2000|ROBERT HILBURN | Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic

"Where Did It All Go Wrong?" is both a song title on Oasis' new album and the ideal opening question for an interview these days with the British band's leader, Noel Gallagher.

When the group's "Wonderwall" single soared into the U.S. Top 10 in 1996, Oasis--with its melodic, Beatle-esque style--seemed only a couple of steps from the superstardom it enjoyed back home.

But Oasis' career sputtered.

Some U.S. fans were turned off by the perceived arrogance of a group that proclaimed itself the best band in the world. Others grew tired of the feuding between Gallagher and his brother Liam, the band's singer, and the reports of heavy alcohol and cocaine use were alarming. When Oasis' 1997 album "Be Here Now" proved a commercial disappointment here and in England, the band's future was in question.

But after lying low for a couple of years, Oasis is back with a new lineup (the Gallaghers are the sole original members) and a U.S. tour that includes a stop April 9 at the Universal Amphitheatre. But the expectations are much more modest now. The new album, "Standing on the Shoulder of Giants," entered the charts in England at No. 1 but made it only to No. 24 in the U.S.

In an interview, Noel, 32, talked about the music, the drugs and some newfound humility.

Question: So, where did it all go wrong?

Answer: That song is about the drugs. It's me looking into the mirror one morning and going, "How did it come to this?" Here I am, a major rock 'n' roll star around the world. I've got loads of money, but I still can't sleep at night. I'd get massive chest pains and stuff.

I realized after the last tour that all the substance abuse was getting in the way of the music and I was getting really lazy in the writing. I ended up selling my house in London and cutting off my circle of friends for the sake of my sanity. If someone had said to me two years ago that I would have moved into the country, had a baby and kicked the junk [one day], I wouldn't have believed them. But it's true, and I feel great.

Q: Some musicians over the years have said drugs made them more creative. What's your feeling about that?

A: I think they helped in a confidence factor. They helped us go out and sell ourselves, . . . all that "we're the greatest band in the world" stuff, which you have to do to get people's attention, . . . to keep people [in the record business and media] from slamming doors in your faces.

But when I hear some of the old stuff, I remember just making stuff up to rhyme because I wouldn't take the time to finish it properly.

Q: In retrospect, how would you evaluate the first three albums?

A: With "Definitely Maybe," I knew exactly the type of album that I wanted to write--a rock 'n' roll party album that defined the generation I grew up in, with all its influences, and I think I achieved that. When it came to "Morning Glory," I had a bunch of songs left over from the first album, but the rest of that album and most of "Be Here Now" was directionless. We were under such pressure being the biggest band in England that we had to keep busy. . . . So we ended up just kinda repeating ourselves.

Q: You didn't feel the same pressure this time?

A: No. For one thing, most people didn't even expect us to record again. And there was a chance we wouldn't. I wasn't happy with a lot of things about the band. I thought that we were playing at being rock stars, just to justify the party side of things. We would go on tour to have a good time as opposed to perform. I was one of the biggest culprits. But this time I took my time and didn't write until I felt I really had something to say.

Q: Has Liam been able to stay sober?

A: Before we started making this record, we told him he had to stop drinking or we weren't going to even start it. It was a bit of a bluff, but it worked. He didn't touch a drop for the three months we were making the record. He is slowly realizing that he is a better person when he is sober than when he is drunk.

Q: Were you worried whether your audience in England was going to stick with you while you took the time off?

A: When we talked in December about doing a show at Wembley Stadium this summer, I didn't know if we could sell 76,000 tickets--especially knowing that the new album wouldn't be out until March. But when I found out we had sold out two Wembley shows, it took my breath away. It's what you dream about, . . . making music that goes deeper than just your latest record.

Q: And what do you think about Oasis' standing in the U.S.?

A: To be honest, I think British music is finished in America for a while. The scene seems to change so fast here, and I think we burned some bridges. I think a lot of people got the wrong idea about us--the whole "bigger than the Beatles" thing. But maybe it's for the best. We can all just concentrate on the music now, which is a lot healthier.

*

Oasis, with Travis, April 9 at the Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, 8:15 p.m. $25. (818) 622-4440.

Robert Hilburn, The Times' pop music critic, can be reached by e-mail at robert.hilburn@latimes.com.

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