Before Oasis could complete the natural trilogy, the familiar rock tale played out: Money, fame and cocaine conspired to dilute the talents of guitarist/songwriter Noel Gallagher and his shit-disturbing vocalist brother Liam. Be Here Now (1997) is the product of an omnipotent, unhinged songwriter surrounded by yes-men, and the transitional Standing on the Shoulder of Giants (2000) was not what Oasis fans had been waiting three years for. On both records, good tunes met confused production ideas, with mixed results. The wait continued.
From the opening seconds of Heathen Chemistry, it's clear that the band wants to get back to where it once belonged. "The Hindu Times" is in the classic Oasis style: churning power chords, an obvious but infectious melody and a great snotty Liam vocal. Before it even has time to fade, a Gary Glitter-style drum stomp introduces "Force of Nature," a glammy rocker that's equal parts bounce and menace. Most retroasis of all is "Stop Crying Your Heart Out," with its piano-and-Liam intro and its lighter-waving sing-along chorus.
This sounds like a self-conscious attempt to write 'em the way they used to, and it is. It sounds great anyway. Oasis was never about spontaneity or invention; its aim was to sound like all of its members' favorite rock records playing at once. Thank God they've taken the Beta Band CDs out of the player and replaced them with the Beatles, Jam and Sex Pistols stuff they loved in the first place. The album closes with a Liam song that suggests Oasis learned something on its tour with the Black Crowes. "Better Man" has a dirty R&B groove previously unheard from Oasis and hints at one way for the band to "progress," if they feel they need to.
But why would they, when they're still so good at what they do? Heathen Chemistry isn't as irresistibly fresh-sounding as their first two albums, so they're not "back" yet, in that sense. They may never be. But if they keep giving us records as good as this one, the eternal wait will be a lot more fun.