In an ideal world this album should not exist. From interviews at the time, it is clear that the giddy heights of spring and summer 1996 and the protracted fallout that carried on until March 1998 had not had its full effect on the band Oasis. Had the Autumn 1996 US tour with The Manic Street Preachers and The Screaming Trees (which in some form was meant to keep the band on the road until Christmas 1996 with gigs planned in Japan, Hong Kong, and Australia) gone according to plan, the eventual tyre fire that was 1997’s Be Here Now could have been avoided. This is important when critically analysing their follow up (Standing on the Shoulder of Giants) as these events in the band’s history are symptomatic to what is produced. To such an extent, that a proposed title for the album was Where Did It All Go Wrong?
One major positive for the album is its production choices, the Epiphone guitars and string sections appear to have been left in the flight cases on this occasion. A mixture of drum loops and mellotron provide a wider palette of audio textures. Much of the credit for this, should go to producer Mike Stent who has managed to add a new flavour to the established Noel-Rock formula.
The vocal talent on display from Liam Gallagher is arguably also a surprise. As accounts from Paolo Hewitt’s 1999 book (Forever the People) of steroids supposedly being the only thing holding Liam Gallagher’s voice together by December 1997, coupled with some interesting performances in 1998; it can be imagined what state the singer’s vocal cords were in by the time of recording sessions in Spring 1999. However, the apparent no drink or drug in the studio rule (and several months rest!) appear to have done the trick. Where some of the power may have gone, the depth and clarity on B-side Let’s All Make Believe and Gas Panic are astonishing. Up there with Don’t Go Away and Some Might Say as some of Liam Gallagher’s best vocals.
While production and vocal talent are important, they would mean nothing to an album if the songs were not to a good standard. Unfortunately, not every song meets the high watermark of quality. Noel Gallagher appears to have not learned the lesson that Be Here Now should have screamed in his face, as songs such as Let’s All Make Believe and Cigarettes in Hell are tucked away as B-sides. Only for the barmy old kack that is I Can See a Liar, and Slade rip-off Put You’re Money Where You’re Mouth Is to have taken their place. Not only do these songs lack the rest of the albums self-awareness, but you almost expect the chugging Gibson SGs of the latter to be followed by the howl of Noddy Holder.
When the songs are at their most prophetic is when the album regains its composure. The dark imagery concocted in Gas Panic combined with heavy production, give the song a presence that makes it the closest the band have got to sounding like Led Zeppelin. Contrary to the song writer’s own feelings, there is a comforting vulnerability to Sunday Morning Call that somehow manages to lift up the listener in spite of its melancholy.
Ultimately a comedown album, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants has some great production and fantastic reflective songs. However, these moments are let down by a poor track listing selection that has the potential to leave a sour taste.