The same folks who were appalled when John Lennon claimed that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ will no doubt be outraged by the five newest egomaniacs in town. They go by the name of Oasis, they hail from Manchester, England, and they've already been likened to the Fab Four--and to the man who allegedly died for our sins.

Is Oasis lead singer Liam Gallagher flattered by such references? Hardly--because he's got more pressing things on his mind. "I used to believe in God up until five or six years ago," says the admittedly lapsed Catholic. "Now I don't believe in an old man with a white beard sitting up in the clouds playing a harp. Now I believe in me."

So do most British pop-music critics, who have made Oasis the latest instant darling on the scene. These journalists have embraced the group's enjoyable debut album, Definitely Maybe (released on Epic in the States), declaring that the derivative brand of genius that sparks its eleven songs constitutes a pleasant refuge from an otherwise arid musical environment. Liam doesn't dispute this judgment. He believes Oasis deserves such praise "because we're important. We evoke strong feelings."

Guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs, speaking from Seattle, couldn't agree more. "We've been constantly in the press this year," he acknowledges. "They've done a feature on us every week since the beginning of last year. And if you're in the press week in and week out, then it's going to work in your favor. The press is responsible for putting us in the limelight, in everyone's face. But we are responsible for making us famous."

Bonehead swears that the notoriety "doesn't affect us. It doesn't make us obnoxious." But he calls this contention into question when he adds, "We're playing the best music at the moment. We're the best band at the moment. People want to know about us."

The Oasis story began several years ago, when Liam decided to start a combo with his older brother Noel ("He tries to boss me around," Liam says, "but I don't let him"). By late 1991 the Gallaghers had been joined by bassist Paul McGuigan, drummer Tony McCarroll and Bonehead, whose nickname refers to his short hair, not his I.Q. With Liam singing and Noel writing the songs, playing lead guitar and contributing background vocals, Oasis covered tunes by the Beatles and Blur, incorporating these influences into their own thick, swirly pop. Less than a year later, the players ventured out of their small industrial town, instruments in tow. They subsequently bullied their way on stage at a small club in Glasgow, Scotland, where they were seen by their discoverer, Creation Records employee Alan McGee.

In short order, Oasis was signed and the publicity machine got rolling. By the time Definitely Maybe was released, the band already had been annointed to the English rock throne previously occupied by the Stone Roses and London Suede. Thanks for this rapid rise is owed to both Liam, whose vocal delivery is convincingly whiny, and Noel, a former roadie for Inspiral Carpets who wrote the material on the Oasis disc. However, Bonehead is loath to say which of the Gallaghers deserves the most credit for the recording's quality: "Liam is the most talented--comically, that is. Musically, I'm not going to say Noel, because Liam will read it and go, `Nah.'" After a pause, he concedes, "Oh, well--it's Noel. He writes the songs. He's the most talented."

Rather than argue with this statement, Liam says only that "we can't write a bad song."

Whether Oasis's compositions have anything to say is another matter. For example, the hit single "Supersonic" features lines that rhyme but make little sense ("I know a girl called Elsa/She's into Alka-Seltzer/She sniffs it through a cane/On a supersonic train"). When asked for a translation of the lyrics, Gallagher answers, "Ask Noel. I don't know what they mean. Noel writes them. People can take them however they want."

Bonehead is also in the dark about the words, but he's certain they don't concern child prostitution, as some pundits have suggested. "No, that's wrong," he says. "Sorry, wrong band. `Supersonic' is about nothing."

Perhaps, but Oasis has still produced two videos for the song--one intended for the British market, another for MTV. A clip also has been completed for "Live Forever," a catchy, backhanded ode to fame. And while videos haven't been planned for numbers such as "Columbia," "Slide Away" and "Married With Children" (unrelated to the awful sitcom of the same name), they're also melodic and infectious. The last track is an attempted break-up piece that showcases Noel's penchant for ennui: "I hate the way that you are so sarcastic/And you're not very bright...Your music's shite/It keeps me up all night."

On the road, Noel and company haven't allowed anyone else to sleep, either; their widely publicized nouveau-rock-star antics have included trashing hotel rooms and starting drunken brawls. At first, Bonehead refutes these reports--"I deny it totally," he says. "I always get the blame, so I'm telling you nothing." But with minimal prompting, he's happy to contradict himself.

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