A slew of significant albums all came out in 1997 – Sam Walton is revisiting each one on their 20th anniversary
Oh, Oasis. Oh, ‘Be Here Now’. It could all have been so different, too: when Noel Gallagher topped the UK singles chart in late 1996 as co-writer of the Chemical Brothers’ near-perfect ‘Setting Sun’, another way still seemed possible. After all, the country’s most successful songwriter was at number one with the most gloriously shattering, abrasive and feral pop song to grace the UK charts in years and accordingly, as his own band began recording their new album that winter, sections of the music press anticipated a third Oasis LP flavoured with the same exotic tang as ‘Setting Sun’, something so untamed, immersive and unmatched in both scope and ambition that all those hitherto ill-fitting Beatles comparisons could finally be justified.
Instead, nine months later came ‘Be Here Now’, the bete noir of Britpop, an avatar for a by-now moribund movement and an album that would go on to rival ‘Metal Machine Music’ as the most infamous of all time. Before all that, mind, on Thursday 21st August 1997, 10 copies of ‘Be Here Now’ were sold every second. As if aware of its own importance, the back page of the album’s CD booklet pictured a calendar bearing its release date. Queues formed outside record shops, and HMV even accompanied every purchase with a certificate to prove you’d been there then.
Twenty years ago today, few people had enough perspective yet on not just the fevered and misplaced expectation of ‘Be Here Now’ that had built all year, but also on the brouhaha surrounding its actual launch. Like oblivious people continuing to buy shares as the stock market starts to crash, hope persisted.
However, the new year brought the sheepish realisation of what a bloated wreck ‘Be Here Now’ really was, a more enduring legacy solidified and, in turn, so shat-upon has ‘Be Here Now’ been for the subsequent nineteen or so years that the album’s actual content has become almost entirely separated from what it represents. No longer is this simply Oasis’s rather overwrought attempt to follow a popular classic, the first identifiable stain on a career that, in hindsight, was already on the slide, but instead a symbolic cross on which all of Britpop’s sins can be hung, the whipping boy for all things decadent, overblown and retrospectively shameful about that scene. No album of the 90s is a bigger bogeyman.