Time Flies... 1994–2009
Big Brother/Columbia

What is it about UK rock fans that always has them looking for the “next Beatles?” From the Stone Roses to the Arctic Monkeys, many Brits are awfully quick to anoint any debut album that has guitars, youthful energy, and a respect for rock & roll’s heritage as the second coming of Lennon/McCartney. (Meanwhile, Americans are happy enough just to find the next Strokes). History inevitably proves these over-zealous critics wrong. But for a while there, it seemed like Oasis was actually capable of living up to the hype and possibly becoming even bigger than the Beatles, and through the transitive property, way bigger than Jesus.

Oasis had the swagger, the style, and the ambition to become one of the biggest rock bands in the world, but they were quickly exposed as little more than highly accomplished imitators. In retrospect, it’s a little surprising that five dudes who played glorified Beatles, Stones, and T-Rex covers were successful for as long as they were. When Oasis eventually moved beyond that winning classic-rock formula, they did so by stripping away everything that made their songs great in the first place: simple, direct song structures, an easy air of likability that made their arrogance seem charming, and silly lyrics that made sense on a gut-level, if not an intellectual one. By 1997’s Be Here Now, Oasis was peddling empty, reheated riffs magnified to outsized proportions by the band’s ever-growing collective ego. And when the band tried to get back to basics on 2005’s Heathen Chemistry, it was too late; they sounded far too old to be anybody’s idea of the future of rock & roll, and it was impossible for them to hide it.

Which brings us to Time Flies... 1994–2009, a collection of all 27 of the band’s UK singles. This should not be confused with a “best of” collection, since many of the songs selected as singles pale in comparison to the band’s early album tracks and B-sides. (Though, for a couple albums at least, every song sounded like a single.) For example, everything that made Oasis great can be found on the brash, exhilarating “Rock and Roll Star.” But instead, the band opted for the inferior “Shakermaker,” which was basically a less interesting version of their biggest hit at the time, “Supersonic,” as the second single off Definitely Maybe.

Yet quibbling about one early track versus another obscures the real problem with Time Flies: out of the band’s 27 singles, a whopping 17 were released after the band had already peaked. For people who grew up idolizing the Gallagher brothers, it’s hard to believe that Oasis ended up being a lousy band for far longer than they were ever a good band. In all fairness, the later years aren’t completely devoid of tolerability. “Go Let it Out” is an interesting mix between ’90s stoner-rock and ’60’s stoner-rock, and “Let There Be Love” is the closest Oasiscame to capturing the effortless balladry of their early work.

But most of the singles from 1997 to the present paint a grim picture of what Oasis was up to for the past 13 years. It’s to be expected when Oasis rips off riffs by Keith Richards or Marc Bolan, but when Noel steals the vocal melody from Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” for “Hindu Times,” it just sounds desperate. On the unintentionally hilarious “Little by Little,” Noel’s over-emotive delivery makes him sound like a Trey Parker–voiced character from Team America, and the song itself belongs in one of those National Guard commercials they play before big movies. Even worse is “Lord Don’t Slow Me Down,” a hard-partying anthem which could work as a biting parody of aging rockstars if the band wasn’t being completely serious.

I can’t be certain who the audience is for this compilation; anyone who cares enough about Oasis to seek out songs off of Heathen Chemistry, Don’t Believe the Truth, and Dig Your Own Soul probably already owns those albums. And yet, if you look at this week’s UK Albums charts, you’ll see Time Flies at the top of the list. Maybe the country was so traumatized by the fact that Oasis never lived up to its Beatlesque potential that they’re now in denial over how inessential the band ultimately became. Or maybe people just can’t keep their eyes and ears away, like when drivers pass a horrible carwreck. Whatever the reason, Time Flies assures the rest of us that, in tuning Oasis out for the past decade, we haven’t been missing much.
David Holmes