Plays The Music of Oasis – The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
I bloody love The Puppini Sisters. And The Pavão Quartet. Frankly I love genre busting cover versions and the groups who sing or play them and could have filled every day of this month (or so) spanning musical 'celebration' with examples. It’s the change in idiom, the ramming of one set of musical intentions into another and witnessing the fallout. This threesome and foursome do exactly that, turning Blondie’s Heart of Glass into a 40s wartime dance number or making Singin' in the Rain sound like a swinging Mozart string quartet.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Plays The Music of Oasis is the apogee of this decent into madness, a full orchestra trying to get its thematic rocks around rock music and only partially succeeding, but glorious in the attempt. It’s certain that when Noel and Liam recorded the opening guitar riff on Roll With It that the last thing they expected was that it would be at some point rendered by the string section of the RPO or that their mid-song wall of sound could inspire a dramatic saxophone solo which in the end has nothing to do with the work its trying to mimic.
Orchestral covers are nothing new of course. I’ve a cassette somewhere of Rock Legends, a chivalric knight on the cover hiding disappointing versions of You Can Call Me Al, Bat Out Of Hell and The Final Countdown. But what makes Plays The Music of Oasis so special is the obvious commitment of the players, finally allowed to lay to rest the demons of the past and youth which would have been misspent had their parents not pushed them into joining the school orchestra – or as the sleep notes explains:
‘Now the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra may prefer a dress code that’s closer to a penguin colony than the streets of Manchester, but beneath those starched shirts and evening gowns lie primeval passions shaken, but not always stirred, by their customary classical repertoire.’
Who writes this stuff? Oh Christopher Valentine, London 1997.
It’s not entirely successful or as brave as it could have been. On some tracks, including Rock n Roll Superstar and Wonderwall, electric and acoustic guitars herald the start of the song which seems like a failure of imagination. But that’s more than made up for by the orchestration on She’s Electric which sounds like it was inspired by Pentangle and The Monkees and has a rather wonderful Vivaldi-esque solo in the middle as surprising and unexpected as the jazz mess during Less Than Jake's cover of I Think I Love You (which turned up on the soundtrack to the film Scream 2).
You do wonder who all this is aimed at. Listening to Radio 3, I get the impression that a large percentage of classical music fans are anti-rock, judging by the hate mail they receive whenever they experiment and slot in even the most acoustic of tracks to fill the gap before the news on the hour, so they’re hardly going to pick this up. Oasis fans might give it a look, particularly if they’re completists, but would probably be wholly dissatisfied by the lack of their idol’s vocals, substituted in places by a French Horn (which does sound surprisingly Mancunian). The target audience then are those of us attracted by unusual juxtapositions and think that Shakermaker pretending to be a John Barry theme is a very good thing indeed.