By the summer of 1996, Oasis were widely considered, according to guitarist Noel Gallagher, "the biggest band in the world ... bigger than, dare I say it, fucking God." The commercial success of the band's two previous albums had resulted in media frenzy and an ubiquity in the mainstream press that was in danger of leading to a backlash. Oasis members were by then being invited to functions at 10 Downing Street by Prime Minister Tony Blair and holidaying with Johnny Depp and Kate Moss in Mick Jagger's villa in Mustique. During their last stay on the island, Noel wrote the majority of the songs that would make up Oasis's third album. He had suffered from writer's block during the previous winter, and has since admitted he wrote only a single guitar riff in the six months following the release of (What's the Story) Morning Glory?. After a few weeks "idling", he disciplined himself to a routine of songwriting where he would go "into this room in the morning, come out for lunch, go back in, come out for dinner, go back in, then go to bed." Noel has later said about the album "... most of the songs were written before I even got a record deal, I went away and wrote the lyrics in about two weeks." The band's producer Owen Morris joined Gallagher later with a TASCAM 8-track recorder, and they recorded demos with a drum machine and a keyboard.
In August 1996, the band performed two concerts before crowds of 250,000 at Knebworth House, Hertfordshire, while more than 2,500,000 fans had applied for tickets. The dates were to be the zenith of Oasis's popularity, and both the music press and the band realised it would not be possible for the band to equal the event. By this time however, there was much instability and internal conflict emerging between the band members. On 23 August 1996, vocalist Liam Gallagher refused to sing for an MTV Unplugged performance at London's Royal Festival Hall, pleading a sore throat. Though he did attend the concert, he spent the evening heckling Noel from the upper level balcony. Four days later, Liam declined to participate in the first leg of an American tour, complaining that he needed to buy a house with his then girlfriend Patsy Kensit. He re-joined the band a few days after for a key concert at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York, but intentionally sang off-key and spat beer and saliva during the performance. The following day, The Sun led with the front page headline "America sickened by obscene Liam's spitting rampage." Amongst much internal bickering, the tour continued—with Liam—to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Noel finally lost his patience with his brother and announced he was leaving the band. He later admitted "If the truth be known, I didn't want to be there anyway. I wasn't prepared to be in the band if people were being like that to each other."
Although Noel rejoined Oasis a few weeks later, the band's management and handlers were worried. With an album's worth of songs already demoed, the general feeling among the Gallaghers was that they should record as soon as possible. Their manager, Marcus Russell, said in 2007 that "in retrospect, we went in the studio too quickly. The smart move would have been to take the rest of the year off. But at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. If you're a band and you've got a dozen songs you think are great, why not go and do it." Morris expressed opposite sentiments, arguing that "It was a mistake on everyone's part, management very much included, that we didn’t record Be Here Now in the summer of 1996. It would have been a much different album: happy probably." He described the Mustique demos as "the last good recordings I did with Noel" and had a good rapport with Gallagher before Knebworth, regarding the concert as having changed things for the worse.
Recording began on 7 October 1996 at EMI's Abbey Road Studios in London. Morris described the first week as "fucking awful", and suggested to Noel that they abandon the session: "He just shrugged and said it would be all right. So on we went." Liam was under heavy tabloid focus at the time, and on 9 November 1996 was arrested and cautioned for cocaine possession following a bender at the Q Awards. A media frenzy ensued, and the band's management made the decision to move to a studio less readily accessible to paparazzi.
The Sun's showbiz editor Dominic Mohan recalled of the period: "We had quite a few Oasis contacts on the payroll. I don't know whether any were drug dealers, but there was always a few dodgy characters about." Oasis's official photographer Jill Furmanovsky felt the media's focus, and was preyed upon by tabloid journalists living in the flat upstairs from her: "They thought I had the band hiding in my flat." In paranoia, Oasis cut themselves off from their wider circle. According to Johnny Hopkins, the publicist of Oasis's label Creation Records, "People were being edged out of the circle around Oasis. People who knew them before they were famous rather than because they were famous." Hopkins likened the situation to a medieval court, complete with kings, courtiers and jesters. As he explained, "[o]nce you're in that situation you lose sight of reality."
On 11 November 1996, Oasis relocated to the rural Ridge Farm Studios in Surrey. Though the band reconvened with more energy, the early recordings were compromised by the drug intake of all involved. Morris recalled that "in the first week, someone tried to score an ounce of weed, but instead got an ounce of cocaine. Which kind of summed it up." Noel was not present during any of Liam's vocal track recordings, typifying the high drama surrounding the sessions. Morris thought that the new material was weak, but when he voiced his opinion to Noel he was cut down: "[So] I just carried on shovelling drugs up my nose." Morris expressed regret at being unable to simply transfer the Mustique demos and overdub drums, vocals, and rhythm guitar, as the 8-track mixer he had employed required him to bounce tracks for overdubs, leaving him unable to remove the drum machine from the recordings.
Noel, wanting to make the album as dense and "colossal" feeling as possible, layered multiple guitar tracks on several of the songs. In many instances he dubbed ten channels with identical guitar parts, in an effort to create a sonic volume. Creation's owner Alan McGee visited the studio during the mixing stage; he said, "I used to go down to the studio, and there was so much cocaine getting done at that point ... Owen was out of control, and he was the one in charge of it. The music was just fucking loud." Morris responded, "Alan McGee was the head of the record company. Why didn’t he do something about the “out of control” record producer”? Obviously, the one not in control was the head of the record company." He further explained that he and the band had been dealing with personal difficulties the day and night before McGee visited the studio.
As with Oasis' previous two albums, the songs on Be Here Now are generally anthemic. The structures are traditional, and largely follow the typical verse – chorus – verse – chorus – middle eight – chorus format of guitar-based rock music. Reviewing for Nude as the News, Jonathan Cohen noted that the album is "virtually interchangeable with 1994's Definitely Maybe or its blockbuster sequel, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?", while Noel had previously remarked that he would make three albums in this generic style. Yet the songs on Be Here Now differ in that they are longer than previous releases; an extended coda brings "D'You Know What I Mean?" to almost eight minutes, while "All Around the World" contains three key changes and lasts for a full nine minutes. The tracks are more layered and intricate than before, and each contains multiple guitar overdubs. While Morris had previously stripped away layers of overdubs on the band's debut Definitely Maybe, during the production of Be Here Now he "seemed to gleefully encourage" such excess; "My Big Mouth" has an estimated thirty tracks of guitar overdubbed onto the song. A Rolling Stone review described the guitar lines as composed of "elementary riffs." There was some experimentation: "D'You Know What I Mean?" contains a slowed down loop from N.W.A's "Straight Outta Compton", while "Magic Pie" features psychedelically arranged vocal harmonies and a mellotron. According to Noel, "All I did was run my elbows across the keys and this mad jazz came out and everyone laughed." The album's production is dominated by top-end high frequency tones, and according to Uncut's Paul Lester, its use of treble is reminiscent of both late 1980s Creation Records bands such as My Bloody Valentine, and The Stooges' famously under-produced Raw Power.
The vocal melodies continue Noel's preference for "massed-rank sing-alongs", although Paul Du Noyer concedes that not all are of the "pub-trashing idiot kind" of previous releases. At the time of release, Q's Phil Sutcliffe summarised the lyrics of Be Here Now as a mixture of "hookline optimism, a swarm of Beatles and other '60s references, a gruff love song to Meg, and further tangled expressions of his inability/unwillingness to express profound emotions."
The lyrics were elsewhere described as "[running] the gamut from insightful to insipid", although Du Noyer admitted that Noel is "[to go by his lyrics] something of a closet philosopher ... and often romantic to the point of big girl's blousedom." While the tracks "Don't Go Away" and "The Girl in the Dirty Shirt" were described as unabashedly sentimental, Du Noyer went on to observe that "there is compassion and sensitivity in these tracks that is not the work of oafs." Du Noyer conceded that Noel often tied himself up in "cosmic knots", but had "written words that sound simple and true, and are therefore poetic without trying to be." Lester read song titles such as "Stand by Me" and "Don't Go Away" as a series of demands, both to members of his private life and his public audience.
Du Noyer praised Liam's vocal contributions and described his "Northern punk whine" as "the most distinctive individual style of our time." Lester alluded to Liam as Noel's "mouthpiece", although he qualified that Liam is the "voice of every working-class boy with half a yen to break out and make it big."
When Alan McGee, Creation's publicist Johnny Hopkins, and marketing executive Emma Greengrass first heard Be Here Now at Noel Gallagher's house, each had their doubts about its artistic value, but kept their doubts to themselves. One Creation employee recalled "a lot of nodding of heads, a lot of slapping of backs." McGee later admitted to having strong misgivings at first: "I heard it in the studio and I remember saying 'We'll only sell seven million copies' ... I thought it was too confrontational." However, in an interview with the music press a few days later he predicted the album would sell twenty million copies. McGee's hyperbole alarmed both Oasis and their management company Ignition, and both immediately excluded him from involvement in the release campaign. Ignition's strategy from that point on centred on an effort to suppress all publicity, and withheld access to both music and information from anybody not directly involved with the album's release. Fearful of the dangers of over-hype and bootlegging, their aim was to present the record as a "regular, everyday collection of tunes." To this end they planned a modest marketing budget, to be spent on subdued promotional activities such as street posters and music press adverts, while avoiding mainstream instruments such as billboard and TV advertising. According to Greengrass "We want to keep it low key. We want to keep control of the whole mad thing."
However, the extent that Ignition were willing to go to control access to the album generated more hype than could normally have been expected, and served to alienate members of both the print and broadcast media, as well as most Creation staff members. When "D'You Know What I Mean?" was planned as the first single, Ignition decided on a late release to radio so as to avoid too much advance exposure. However, three stations broke the embargo, and Ignition panicked. According to Greengrass: "we'd been in these bloody bunker meetings for six months or something, and our plot was blown. 'Shit, it's a nightmare'." BBC Radio 1 received a CD containing three songs ten days before the album's release, on condition that disc jockey Steve Lamacq talked over the tracks to prevent illegal copies being made by listeners. The day after Lamacq previewed the album on his show, he received a phone call from Ignition informing him that he would not be able to preview further tracks because he didn't speak enough over the songs. Lamacq said, "I had to go on the air the next night and say, 'Sorry, but we're not getting any more tracks.' It was just absurd." According to Creation's head of marketing John Andrews, "[The campaign] made people despise Oasis within Creation. You had this Oasis camp that was like 'I'm sorry, you're not allowed come into the office between the following hours. You're not allowed mention the word Oasis.' It was like a fascist state." One employee recalled an incident "when somebody came round to check our phones because they thought The Sun had tapped them."
When Hopkins began to circulate cassette copies of the album to the music press a few weeks later, he required that each journalist sign a contract containing a clause requiring that the cassette recipient, according to Select journalist Mark Perry, "not discuss the album with anyone—including your partner at home. It basically said don't talk to your girlfriend about it when you're at home in bed." The Mail on Sunday wrote of Russell "[He] has a mind like a steel trap and the organisational skills of Winston Churchill." Reflecting in 1999, Greengrass admitted: "In retrospect a lot of the things we did were ridiculous. We sit in [Oasis] meetings today and we're like 'It's on the Internet. It's in Camden Market. Whatever'. I think we've learned our lesson." According to Perry: "It seemed, particularly once you heard the album, that this was cocaine grandeur of just the most ludicrous degree. I remember listening to "All Around the World" and laughing—actually quite pleasurably—because it seemed so ridiculous. You just thought: Christ, there is so much coke being done here."
The cover image was shot in April 1997 at Stocks House in Hertfordshire, the former home of Victor Lownes, head of the Playboy Clubs in the UK until 1981. It shows the band standing outside the hotel surrounded by various props, at the centre is a Rolls Royce floating in a swimming pool. Photographer Michael Spencer Johns said the original concept involved shooting each band member in various locations around the world, but when the cost proved prohibitive, the shoot was relocated to Stocks House. Spencer remarked that the shoot "degenerated into chaos", adding that "by 8 pm, everyone was in the bar, there were schoolkids all over the set, and the lighting crew couldn't start the generator. It was Alice in Wonderland meets Apocalypse Now." Critics have tried to read into the selection of the cover props, Johns said Gallagher simply selected items from the BBC props store he thought would look good in the picture. Two props considered were an inflatable globe (intended as a homage to the sleeve of Definitely Maybe) and the Rolls Royce, suggested by Arthurs. The release date in each region was commemorated on the calendar pictured on the sleeve; Harris said the dating "[encouraged] fans to believe that to buy a copy on the day it appeared was to participate in some kind of historical event."
Be Here Now was released in the UK on 21 August 1997. The release date had been brought forward out of Ignition's fear that import copies of the album from the United States would arrive in Britain before that country's designated street date. Worrying that TV news cameras would interview queuing fans at a traditional midnight opening session, Ignition forced retailers to sign contracts pledging not to sell the record earlier than 8:00am. However, when the album did go on sale, the cameras showed up regardless, just in time to record the initially slow trade. It was not until lunch time that sales picked up. By the end of the first day of release, Be Here Now sold over 424,000 units and by the end of business on Saturday of that week sales had reached 663,389, making it, at the time, the fastest-selling album in British history. The album debuted at number two on the Billboard charts in the United States kept off the #1 spot by Puff Daddy's No Way Out, but its first week sales of 152,000—below expected sales of 400,000 copies—were considered a disappointment.
Contemporaneous reviews of Be Here Now were, in John Harris's words, unanimous with "truly amazing praise." According to Harris, "To find an album that had attracted gushing notices in such profusion, one had to go back thirty years, to the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." While Q magazine described the album as "cocaine set to music", most early reviews praised the record's length, volume and ambition. Reviews in the British music press for Oasis' previous album (What's the Story) Morning Glory? had been generally negative. When it went on to become, in the words of Select editor Alexis Petridis, "this huge kind of Zeitgeist defining record" the music press was "baffled". Realising they had got it wrong the last time, Petridis believes the initial glowing reviews were a concession to public opinion.
By the end of 1997, Be Here Now had sold eight million units worldwide. However, the sales volume was largely gained in the first two weeks of release, and once the album was released to UK radio stations the turnover tapered off. Buyers realised that the album was not another (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, and by 1999, Melody Maker reported that it was the album most sold to second-hand record stores. In the 2003 John Dower-directed documentary Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop, music critic Jon Savage pinpointed Be Here Now as the moment where the Britpop movement ended. Savage said that while the album "isn't the great disaster that everybody says", he noted that "[i]t was supposed to be the big, big triumphal record" of the period. Q expressed similar sentiments, writing, "So colossally did Be Here Now fall short of expectations that it killed Britpop and ushered in an era of more ambitious, less overblown music". Irish Times journalist Brian Boyd wrote: "Bloated and over-heated (much like the band themselves at the time), the album has all that dreadful braggadocio that is so characteristic of a cocaine user." Reflecting in 2007, Garry Mulholland admitted, "the fact that nothing could have lived up to the fevered expectations that surrounded its release doesn't change the facts. The third Oasis album is a loud, lumbering noise signifying nothing."
The Gallagher brothers hold differing opinions about the album. As early as July 1997, Noel was "talking down" Be Here Now in the music press, describing the production as "bland", and remarking that some of the tracks were "fucking shit". Noel is also very keen to downplay the record's commercial success, saying: "Just because you sell lots of records, it doesn't mean to say you're any good. Look at Phil Collins." In Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop, he dismissed the album, and blamed its faults on drugs and the band's indifference during recording. He suggested that the people unsatisfied with the record simply sell it. In contrast, Noel noted that his brother "thinks it fucking rocks." In the same documentary, Liam defended the record, and said that "at that time we thought it was fucking great, and I still think it's great. It just wasn't Morning Glory." In 2006, Liam said of Noel, "If he didn't like the record that much, he shouldn't have put the fucking record out in the first place ... I don't know what's up with him but it's a top record, man, and I'm proud of it—it's just a little bit long."
All songs written by Noel Gallagher.Bonus track on 2016 Japanese reissue
As part of a promotional campaign entitled Chasing the Sun, the album was re-released on 14 October 2016. The three-disc deluxe edition includes remastered versions of the album and seven B-sides from the album's three UK singles. Bonus content includes demos, the Mustique sessions, live tracks, and a 2016 remix of "D'You Know What I Mean."