Friday, 1 November 2019
Monday, 28 October 2019
Neil Young and Crazy Horse “Colorado” (2019)
Think Of Me/She Showed Me Love/Olden Days/Help Me Lose My Mind/Green Is Blue/Shut It Down/Milky Way/Eternity/Rainbow Of Colours/I Do
‘You might say I’ve been down a few roads…yeah, you might say that!’
There is a lot riding on ‘Colorado’ at this point in time, perhaps more than any other Neil Young album since ‘Harvest’. On the one hand it’s the first of Neil’s mainstream releases since the death of his third wife Pegi in January and only the second since Young ended several decades of will-he, won’t-he? by moving in with actress Darryl Hannah. Will Neil return to the guilt-fest that was 2014’s ‘Storytone’ (an album released before anyone quite knew what was happening)? On the second hand the world has gone even more nuts since Neil’s last album ‘The Visitor’ at the end of 2017: it’s now a confirmed fact the orang-u-tang in charge of The White House is an evil dictator hell bent on destroying the world as we know it to all but the 2% of Americans who are still bluntly cheering him on, while Britain’s Brexit somehow manages to make even America look almost sensible. Will Neil record another ‘Ohio’ or ‘Living With War’? On the third hand the world might have finally caught up with the ecological problems writer Neil has been writing about on and off since the days of Buffalo Springfield. Are we going to get another ‘Monsanto’esque diatribe? And on the fourth hand (!) this album is, in all likelihood, going to be the last album to be reviewed in the last Alan’s Album Archives book when it comes out at the end of 2020. Will Neil give us a fittingly dangerous and groundbreaking finale as a reminder that music made by the people who matter can still be the world’s greatest art-form?
Instead we sorta kinda get Neil going back to his roots, the easiest way of making music of the sort most likely to click with his fanbase (it didn’t escape our attention that ‘The Visitor’ became his first album to miss the top forty since the difficult Geffen days of the 1980s). Many a reviewer has already come out with lines about how this is Neil back to his ‘ragged Glory’ days of high-volume low-speed with Crazy Horse circa 1990. Neil’s first fully plugged-in album since 2012’s ‘Psychedelic Pill’ is also his first since Crazy Horse and the songs largely skip rabble-rousing and self-flagellation in favour of the sort of Dylanesque couplets Neil usually writes when everything is going his way. Oddly enough, ‘Colorado’ is not the first time a member of CSNY has retreated to the Colorado rocky mountains in time of great stress to find soothing comfort and a new revigorated kind of energy (Stephen Stills moved there after his wow-so-this-is-actually-final-then break-up with Judy Collins and ended up writing most of his Manassas masterpiece there in 1971-1972, including a song named ‘Colorado’). However, much as Neil is back on the straight and narrow after an increasingly eccentric set of albums, there’s something a tad uncomfortable about this one too, as if no matter how hard he tries even this safe been-there-for-generations landscape has changed irrevocably forever.
For a start, this isn’t a ‘Crazy Horse’ we’ve ever seen before on a Neil Young album. Guitarist Frank Sampedro retired in 2014 after an eventful forty years that involved broken fingers, drug excess and more hirings and firings for Crazy Horse than the entire Trump cabinet. His replacement is, thank goodness, the only possible replacement: Nils Lofgren was the shiny-faced nineteen-year-old who saved Crazy Horse back in 1971 when Danny Whitten Od’d and after rescuing their first extraordinary album without Neil then rescued the first extraordinary Neil album without Danny, learning to play the piano on the hoof for ‘After The Goldrush’. Nils would have been a shoe-in as Danny’s replacement had his own superb under-rated career not taken off, leading to such pivotal moments as his band Grin’s ‘1+1’ (a true gem of the early 1970s), ‘Nils Lofgren’ (the 1971 version with some astounding bits of songwriting), err ‘Nils Lofgren’ (the 1979 version with ‘Shine Silently’ and various Lou Reed collaborations that really stretched his palette), 1995’s ‘Damaged Goods’ (a groundbreaking dark night of the soul in the ‘Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ vein) and 2008’s ‘Nils Sings Neil’ (a so-so cashing in on Neil’s most famous moments, recycled well on acoustic guitar). Nils also parked his infamous on-stage trampoline away long enough to re-bond with Neil on ‘Unplugged’ (1993) and Neil, Billy and Ralph on Young’s greatest and most personal masterpieces ‘Tonight’s The Night’ (1975) and ‘Trans’ (1982). Nils is now the baby-faced sixty-year-old to his seventy-year-aged cohorts and no one could have filled the huge hole that is Frank so well or so neatly. Nevertheless, there is clearly a difference here – all those years of playing in Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band and his own occasional moves over to pop have given Nils’ guitar qualities a ringing, mainstream stadia feel that Sampedro never had, even when playing to Crazy Horse’s biggest crowds. Frank would also happily sit on the same see-sawing riff for several minutes; Nils is one of rock and roll’s most naturally curious guitarists and can’t help trying out something new to curveball his fellow musicians. Harmonically, too, Nils’ sweet tenor sits in the gruff hole where Frank’s vocals used to go and even Billy and Ralph’s ragged harmonies sound sweeter as a result.
It’s Neil too, though, who delivers an album quite different to his usual big ‘return to Crazy Horse, straight-and-narrow’ streams-of-consciousness. While the music gets simpler and is played in even less keys than usual (and with even more blatant recycling: ‘Rainbow Of Colours’ is a direct steal from George Harrison’s ‘Behind That Locked Door’), the lyrics to ‘Colorado’ are some of Neil’s most obtuse and obscure. ‘She Showed Me Love’ in particular is not the simple sweet love songs it sounds. Instead, over thirteen epic minutes, Neil agonises over all the themes we drew out above without lingering on any of them. His new wife, his family, his fans, mother nature – they all showed him love in their own ways, so which one does he pay attention to first? This rambling song moves from tender to concerned to downright angry as Neil pays his gratitude for everything and wonders how he can find the time to save them all. Equally ‘Rainbow Of Colours’ is a stream-of-consciousness lyric that finds Neil looking over and above it all, escaping the petty feuds of mankind for a bigger picture of the universe, ‘losing track of memories’ as he dies, goes on an acid trip, suffers an epileptic fit or all three at once. ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’ meanwhile has Neil wondering if he can stay there because all that noise and colour is somehow safer for him than this confusing world that’s ‘always working on finding my weakness’. ‘Can’t forget!’ is this album’s latest agonised and oft-repeated Young cry as he hauls himself out of his peaceful little love cave to face his critics who hate his music, his politics, his love life, his need to tell the world that it’s about to end. ‘Not for me!’ is the rejoining cry as Neil tells us all that he’s doing this for us – so why won’t somebody help him?
Oddly, perhaps, that’s the only real moment of tension or chaos across the album. Neil sounds happier than I would have expected him to given the sad events of a year that saw him move in with a new love and lose the mother of many of his children (which does sound like a Machiavellian pact). Rather than the guilt of ‘Storytone’ though Neil feels free to write his new wife love songs quite openly for the first real time and as a result there’s a sense of contentment and domesticity that we haven’t heard since 1978’s ‘Comes A Time’. In the middle of this turbulent record made in a hugely turbulent era personally and politically Neil can sing of rainbows and love with an innocence seventy-four-year-olds don’t normally have. Neil pays Darryl her own tributes in the way he once did with wives Pegi, Carrie and Susan, with the line to sum up her take-no-prisoners righteous soul ‘She walked like she knew where she was going’ to match the stability-and-brooms of ‘Harvest Moon’, the lust and confusion of ‘A Man Needs A Maid’ and the awed love songs of ‘Neil Young’ respectively.
Darryl brings light to a world of darkness, a rainbow of colours to an Earth that seems to exist in black-and-white and hope to a life that thought it was over and done already. Darryl is painted here time and again as a fierce fighter who knows her own mind but brings Neil a peace and tranquillity he hasn’t felt for a long time and a fairytale as she waited all those years to be with him without being disappointed in him. This album is very much her album in the same way that ‘Neil Young’ was for Susan, ‘Harvest’ was for Carrie and ‘Comes A Time’ was for Pegi, but naturally for such a known eco-warrior who knows her politics, it’s a record that’s concerned with the outer world as well as the inner world.
One of the big announcements made during the press junket for ‘Colorado’ was that, after fifty years of being a dual citizen, Neil is now officially an American. This is, if he doesn’t mind me saying so, a weird time to do just that. The official line is that Neil ‘got tired of not having a say’ in American politics and fed up of lambasting critics who wondered why he cared so much about Trump if he was Canadian. It is, I fear, a sign of the times. Nobody questioned Neil’s right to write about whomever the hell he wanted when Nixon was in the White House and even as recently as 2008 George Bush Jnr was fair game; it’s only now the Trumpies are in the house that people are as likely to check stranger’s citizenship rights and birth certificate before they check out your record collection. It seems odd, too, that Neil of all people should stoop to caring what the public thought of him just two years after gleefully kicking off ‘The Visitor’ with the line ‘I’m Canadian by the way…’ The politics of what’s happening to the world runs through the veins of ‘Colorado’ in more ways than just the title, even if it’s softer than the Trump pot-shots of the last couple of CDs. For starters, Trump doesn’t get a specific mention this time around though that’s clearly who Neil is aiming at with his tales of biased television reports and angry unthinking supporters.
Equally the ecological themes aren’t shouted from the rooftops the way they have been on so many recent Young CDs. ‘You might say I’m an old white guy’ Neil jokes at the start of ‘She Showed Me Love’, joking that he’s part of the problem not the solution, but on other tracks he’s the one who helped create the legacy that people are leaning on. ‘Shut It Down’ is the only track that goes all full-on Greta Thunberg as Neil laments a ‘blindness that cannot see’ that seems to have infected half of the world come crunch time. ‘Olden Days’ does, though, lament the fact that the 1960s hippies didn’t get to save the world the way they’d hoped, as Neil looks over his shoulder to count another tally of friends and comrades lost to time. ‘Where did they go?’ he sighs. Nevertheless, there’s a hope that the younger generation are finally picking up where Neil and co left off circa 1969, that the world may yet be in safe hands with the new batch of hippie protestors in control rather than the tin soldiers of bureaucracy and control. ‘Green Is Blue’ has Neil sighing over ‘so much we didn’t do’ as the grass and fields of his childhood become gradually reclaimed by the sea as the ‘weather changes’ and there are ‘fires and floods’. But it also has him seeing hope where others see chaos and destruction, that even while other people get depressed about the future he sees bountiful fields of plenty now that humanity is finally getting its act together. Even while Neil is telling us all how bad things are, with our biased news channels and extinct species, he can envision the Earth a few decades down the line when getting angry about all this is normal and people care about more than just their own narrow views of their lifetimes and start worrying about their children’s. One of Neil’s most beautiful songs in a long time it’s everything that’s best about the complexities of his songwriting, as Neil is angry and sad and content with each change of the chords and every quiver in his voice.
If there’s a key theme for this album, then, it’s division as Neil goes to war with himself over swapping his old love for new with tragic consequences, the patriotic Trumpies fight the rest of America over what is ‘fake news’ and half the world get passionately behind a schoolgirl taking time out from her childhood to tell the world what it should have already known while the rest honk their horns in annoyance because yet another protest mean they will be late for work making money to spend in a world that might not exist much longer. Neil, so often an architect of division himself in his ‘Ohio’ and ‘Living With War’ days, just wants peace and the world to heal. No wonder he’s retreated to the Colorado mountains to think the next part of his life through: he needs to help heal his family, his newly adopted country, the decaying planet and you sense himself. Thankfully Neil has the answers as well as the questions here though and after a decade of feeling faintly scared and perturbed after playing Neil Young albums (‘Fork In The Road’ with it’s last-gasp hope for change, ‘Psychedelic Pill’ with it’s eerie ‘life will never be the same’ stance, the guilty ‘Storytone’, the angry ‘Monsanto’ and the troubled ‘Peace Trail’ and ‘The Visitor’ which start off with a war against Trump and a protest on an Indian pipeline before closing with ‘Forever’, a frightening song about the world packing ready to leave a scary place before finding there is nowhere safe to move to and might never be again) ‘Colorado’ finally brings comfort and healing and closure. ‘Think Of Me’ answers ‘Forever’ by having Neil a bird in the sky who can spread his wings and adapt to wherever he chooses, while he’s ‘gonna live long and I’m happy’. ‘Shut Down The System’ is the most positive I think we’ve ever heard Neil in an ecological sense as he sees change finally happening and wanders dangerously off-key to tell us that ‘When I look at the future I see hope for you and me’. The finale has Neil finally putting down the weight of whether he made the right decision to leave Pegi for Darryl by effectively giving a new set of marriage vows in ‘I Do’. Even the album cover is a neat collage of the old and new, as we get another of those made-to-look-vintage American Indian style silhouettes of a ‘crazy horse’ (as per the packaging of ‘Broken Arrow’ and ‘Year Of The Horse’) with a very modern digitalised soundscape of EQ levels for one of the songs (‘She Showed Me Love’ at a guess, given that it’s the song here with the greatest range of dynamics). The two seem odd bedfellows at first but sort of work after a while, not unlike the album as a whole, amounting to the grand contradiction that in order to maintain traditions you have to alter the future from a course of killing itself and thus wiping history away.
This is not, then, your average reunion with Crazy Horse. There’s no crunching simplistic rock and roll as per ‘Zuma’, no ready-made anthems as per ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, no drawn-out love songs as per ‘Ragged Glory’ and no pocket-and-epic ruminations on autobiography as per ‘Psychedelic Pill’. ‘Colorado’ is truly an album that could have gone in any direction from guilty ballads to triumphant love songs to concerned political and ecological rants and Neil gives us all of them here, along with a trio of songs that defy explanation or understanding. I’m not quite sure ‘Colorado’ is the huge return to form that – yet again – every reviewer has been talking about (‘The Visitor’ was a mighty under-rated album, groundbreaking in its twists and turns while ‘Peace Trail’ had the best songs, ‘Monsanto’ the best concept and ‘Storytone’ the most importance in Neil’s 2010s canon, while ‘Psychedelic Pill’ arguably made better use of Crazy Horse). Not all of it is wonderful: the sea-shanty ‘Rainbow Of Colours’ is hideously embarrassing (so of course Neil made sure it was the album’s first single!) It is, however, another strong CD that could so easily have taken the easy way out but decided instead to sum up just what a schizophrenic, confused period this is in Neil’s personal history and for us as a world. There’s a bit of everything here and most of it is good, while the typical one-take Crazy Horse performances sound tighter and more complex than normal without losing the urgency of an album made at speed. Much of the credit for this goes to new-old-boy Nils, but Billy and Ralphy too play quite brilliantly at times across this album, while Neil somehow manages to overcome a mix that ducks his vocal lower than any other sound by making his performance central to the record. It might not the full-on ecological protest many hoped for, or the melodic collection of love songs, or the fascinating autobiographical guilt confessional or the anti-Trump polemic the world (well, most of it) is still desperately waiting for. But it is a great sampler of what it is to be Neil Young in 2019, loved yet hated, despondent yet hopeful, lost yet confident.
I for one was expecting ‘Colorado’ to be about death. Neil has, after all, lost a lot of people close to him lately from his ex to the bass player who played on more of his albums than any other Rick Rosas. Instead the only song that touches on death is opening track ‘Think Of Me’ and it’s not exactly what I was expecting. Neil bids us to think of him once he’s dead and gone in a similar way to the songs on ‘Prairie Wind’ but asks us not to be sad about it; he’ll be free of his shackles at once and flying across the sky in Canada like the big birds that once reminded him of home on ‘Helpless’. Neil’s suddenly become a big believer in reincarnation (it fits with the ‘pagan’ stance he talked about on ‘Psychedelic Pill’) and sees death in the very Neil Young sense as a chance to do something different and be someone else for a time, ‘living long and happy’ as he swoops high and dives low the way he did as a human being. Worryingly, after years of records telling us that he ain’t going yet as he still has work to do Neil says that ‘I’ve got to finish up and get out of here right now’ but he still promises rather sweetly to be there for his fans when they get desperate and need comfort (‘when you cross your heart and you hope to die and your dreams come tumbling down’). All he asks is that fans think of him from time to time, which we surely will. More than one fan out there has seen this song as the album’s only reference to Pegi and that this is a message from her that was ‘channelled’ by Young into a song (and what better way for Pegi to return to life than music?) The nature imagery works just as well for her as for Neil and it makes perfect sense she would return as something graceful moving fast (indeed this song is lyrically not that far removed from the music Pegi was making in her own right with its references to wildlife and fate) so it could be that Neil sat down to actively write a song in her style to say goodbye. If true, though, this interpretation gives that last painful verse a new meaning, as she surely instructs her ex to remember him the next he promises something he can’t keep, ‘cross your heart and hope to die’. Anyone whose been following the last batch of twenty AAA Neil Young album reviews will know how Pegi’s suspicions that Neil had found another love and her heartbreak on learning it unfolded and the dark humour and irony in that statement sounds much like Pegi too! However this is not an angry or a guilty song. There’s a whole sky to fly in, a whole new life to uncover and explore and a lot of new memories to gather. How could we possibly forget? The poppiest song by far on the album despite its subject matter, Crazy Horse are impressively light on their feet here sounding better than many of Neil’s acoustic bands do at this sort of thing and with Nils shining on some lovely harmonies.
‘She Showed Me Love’ is by contrast the album’s epic, not so much a free-flying goose as a snake that keeps shedding its skin as the song changes what it wants to be. It starts out as an ecological protest, Neil naming himself as ‘an old white guy’ irrelevent in a time when people are exploring views by women and ethnic minorities. He agrees with what the young girls of the world are saying though: it’s something he’s been saying for decades now, that old white guys like him are ‘killing mother nature’. As with his anthem for ‘Mother Nature’ Neil knows the planet can heal herself and that she’s only showed people like him great love, bountiful produce and life. He has a vision of mother nature ‘pushing the Earth in a baby carriage’ offering nurturing love even though her off-spring have turned on her. Neil also knows he’s had it easy being white and male, ‘a few bricks short of a load’ compared to some of the people he sees at the protests with Darryl Hannah and probably finds it strange to see faces like his on their protest boards. No one else Neil’s age does what he does and he finds himself a lone voice in this sea of faces, telling his audience he thinks might look a lot like him that ‘if I tell you where I been you might think I lost my mind’. Neil uses what last bit of standing he has to tell his fans of where he’s been and what he’s believed though, offering up his wisdom as someone whose ‘been down a few roads’. By the end of the song this more of your usual love song – Neil might not have been to these protests without Darryl there to get him out the house and by the end this song has become a hymn to femininity, to a more caring world males have ignored for far too long. By the time this realisation comes we’ve just hit the six minute mark and Neil’s run out of words, but he’s making up for all that lost time with a humdinger of a guitar solo that rises out of nowhere to dance around the song’s main unbending riff, showing the world that people can change with the times and dance to a new beat. While Nils does his best to follow the Sampedro method of sticking to a tight fixed groove, Neil stretches out further, slowly dropping his early intensity into a sublime melodic ringing of notes that cut through the dense fog of a Crazy Horse jam like a lighthouse in stormy weather. As Crazy Horse intone ‘she showed me love!’ over and over the song slows down, stutters and falls and hits the point where most producers would have been on the talkback feed telling the band to stop several times over. Somehow though that last stuttering just about keeps going until Crazy Horse pick things up out of the debris and start up again, the song gaining momentum at the eleventh hour the same way that the planet still might after all have a chance. By the time we reach that final full stop with a ringing chord drowned in fe3edback with a wash of Molina cymbals, it sounds like a victory. More interesting than many recent extended Crazy Horse jams if nowhere near as inspired as ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’, it’s notable again how happy this song sounds despite the dark subject matter.
‘Olden Days’ is one of Neil’s occasional songs of nostalgia for times past which sounds oddly out of place on this album of looking ahead to the future. Unlike many of Neil’s songs it’s hard to pinpoint who it was written for too: Neil has lost so many people lately it’s hard to keep up. It does sound more like a friend than a lover, though, and someone whose alive just not around so that rules out many. There’s also the line that, much like Neil, his friend has moved on ‘with your new love’ and doesn’t have time to call round much anymore. My guesswork has narrowed it down to two: Graham Nash and Frank Sampedro. Interestingly both men have moved address lately which fits Neil’s lyrics of ‘having moved away when I needed to talk to you today’, Nash from Hawaii to New York and Poncho, funnily enough, from New York to Hawaii. Neil’s always been the kind of person who will drop people without notice or apology but gets apoplectic when they aren’t there for him or something goes wrong. Did he want to reunite CSNY or Crazy Horse and found to his horror nobody was picking up the phone at their old number? Maybe this goes deeper too: Neil’s slightly cross with both men at the moment: Nash for some of the comments in his autobiography ‘Wild Tales’ (though Young seems to be less cross than Crosby was) and Sampedro for some of the comments made to Rolling Stone Magazine after the last tour in 2014 (poor Poncho was still recovering from smashing up two of his fingers on the tour bus and wanted to take things easy, but Billy got sick with a stroke and without him Neil decided it wasn’t the Horse and threw in lots of other material Poncho just didn’t know how to play, much to his frustration and physical pain). We can also only guess at what the ‘bad thing that happened yesterday’ was for Neil (with shades of the old song from ‘Mirrorball’) but my guess is that it’s something to do with Pegi, either her divorce or her death. Much as this song starts off as a song about the good old days, it’s really about Neil’s panic in the present as he calls up an old buddy to share news and realises they’ve disappeared from his life, perhaps alienated like all the rest. Neil has rarely sounded quite this alone and sounds fragile even for him, wobbling off the notes wildly while Nils desperately tries to keep the song afloat with the first piano he’s played on a Neil album since ‘After The Goldrush’ (an album to which this one is oddly similar, with its sense of things ending and beginning, a tragedy infused with hope). In the past Neil might have turned this into a full-on angry rant a la ‘Hippie Dream’, but in this short and simple song he’s content to go back to remembering better days, with an unexpected key change back to the major suddenly pushing this song to be happy, to find his peace with the world. Inevitably though the song kind of sinks in on itself instead as we end up back in the most self-pitying verse we’ve had from Neil in a long time: ‘Where did all the people go? Why did they fade away from me? They meant so much to me…’ An old softy who can still bare his false teeth, this is perhaps the most Neil Young moment on the record although it’s notable that this song doesn’t quite sound the way a piece like this would have done on a past record – Neil is trying to stay in a dark place but Crazy Horse are trying to make things beautiful and to lure him out of this lonely place.
Inevitably given the events of the past year Neil needs some escapism and ‘Help Me Lose My Mind?’ is it. An angry churning riff makes this the album’s true odd-one-out, especially as it does Colorado’s trick in reverse by being set to the happiest lyric on the album in many ways, at least at first (‘Nothing bothers me ‘cause I’m so happy’ is indeed the song’s opening line). Neil jokes with us that he’s ‘got a face that gets me in trouble’ even when he’s trying to do good and keep the peace, before turning on the voices of guilt he hears in his head. ‘I gotta win somehow’ Neil laments ‘It’s always working on my weakness!’ By the chorus Neil is moving on past his problems, ‘moving along till I’m new again’ because he doesn’t like the person he’s become. Distracted he spends his money buying a new TV and a new sound system but it’s clear that he’s just in denial, trying to be told something comforting that isn’t true. Like ‘Dangerbird’ we’re on the edge of a nervous breakdown caused by something simple and meaningless as Neil goes to pieces trying to re-set the picture size on his new purchase so that, in the album’s best metaphor, it can ‘make the sky look like the Earth is flattened’. Neil is suddenly helpless, aware of how much he depends on other people and how they just aren’t there in his life the way they were. ‘Won’t someone help me lose my mind?’ Neil calls out over and over like a wounded animal while old black spits out sparks of venom and frustration. The surely deliberate irony is that this is the most ‘Crazy Horse’ like song on the album, Neil’s lost soul made to sound really big here (or are the band meant to sound like the ringing in his ears as he loses his marbles?) Neil stretches out to throw a few notes into a solo but he stutters, struggling with the notes that would once have come easy as his notes sink into the storm of the Horse at their rawest and most simplistic. By the end this song has become much more than a faulty setting on a TV – it’s the weight of a man who needs to distract himself and once some sudden phasing comes in during the middle (a very rare tweak of production values on this album) it sounds like the acid trip from hell. Powerful as the song is, though and as right as Neil was to let this song out in its raw barely-rehearsed state it lacks the invention of similar songs like ‘Fuckin’ Up’ and feels as if it runs for much longer than the 4:15 it actually lasts.
The album’s greatest masterpiece is surely ‘Green Is Blue’, the loveliest Young song in ever such a long time. A truly lovely descending chord sequence on the piano sounds like many a past ballad, but this one has the melody and words to back it up as Neil digs deep to count his blessings and impart his wisdom on what must be the most beautiful song about a work-life balance ever written. Neil admits to being distracted in his quest to tell human beings that they were destroying their planet, messed up by all the events going on in his personal life that he lost sight of the bigger picture. By the same token now Pegi is gone he wishes he had spent more time with her and less worrying about the future so that he could have more memories. ‘There’s so much we didn’t do’ sighs Neil in the chorus which could be about either or both, adding for good measure that there should have been another way, that ‘we fought each other while we lost our coveted prize’ (marriage and a liveable planet). Neil comes close to saying ‘sorry’ here as he begs forgiveness and wonders why green turned to blue so easily for the Earth (the land swamped with the sea) and for his marriage (where a land of plenty ended up making them both sad). By the last verse both strands of the song are neatly entwined: Neil saw the warnings, he felt the weather change and ignored them, until what was good and natural in his life was becalmed on an ice floe facing extinction. ‘We knew what we had to do’ Neil summarises. So why didn’t they do it? Why is the planet dying and why has he lost his soulmate? Neil is even more vulnerable here with nothing much to distract us from those staccato piano chords, but this isn’t purely a sad and angry song. The moment when his piano chords stop stabbing and sweep into a truly gorgeous rounded melody and Crazy Horse sweep in to provide some gorgeous harmonies, cymbal washes and some clever subtle Nils guitar somehow makes everything sound right again, as if Neil is saying ‘it’s too late for us – but not for you’. A haunting, exceptional song.
‘Shut It Down’ picks up where the last song left off, urging humanity on as it wrestles with perhaps one of the great turning points in our civilisation. The sort of protest Neil once dreamed of and supported in small pockets here and there has finally become mainstream but Neil knows how short our attention span is and how quickly we can turn away from our last chance to secure our future. So here he bids us to not just protest and go back to our own lives but to shut down an entire system that isn’t working. Sounding not unlike the wide slashing basic chords of ‘Re-Ac-Tor’ Neil seems to apologise for pushing so hard for American industry in the past and go for the jugular. ‘It’s the only way we can be free!’ pleads Neil as he describes what the industrial revolution has grown into: people living in ‘meat factories’ bred to make the rich and greedy more money. He snaps angrily at the obstacles in our way: the people making the money pretending to be ‘one of us’ in their ‘cool climate change t-shirts’ (with yet another irony being that nothing is ‘cool’ about making the planet hotter in every sense of the word) and the ‘blindness that just can’t see’ the bigger picture and the people who think as long as they get their pay cheques on time everything is fine. ‘What about the bookshelves?’ Neil pleads, aware of how much will be lost if the species goes under, ‘what about the history?’ Notably, though, while the lyrics are as gung-ho as anything on the similar ‘Fork In the Road’ and ‘Monsanto’ albums Neil doesn’t sound quite so confident in his performance and again sounds strangely vulnerable here. Rather than the man of ‘Ohio’ who knew how to make the world a better place here Neil sounds a lone voice lost in the crowd he knows no one will ever listen to (because he’s an old white man who had his chance to save the Earth half a century ago perhaps?) There’s something about this song that doesn’t quite hang together, most notably the cop-out ending that fades just as it’s yearning to become another epic (when did a Crazy Horse track last fade? I can’t think of any. Did they mess up really badly?) However rarely has Neil’s guitar arrived with such a crunch as it does in this song’s opening bars and the Horse’s harmony vocal is once again a thing of sweet ‘n’ sour beauty. Full marks to producer John Hanlon who does a much better job of capturing Crazy Horse ‘in the wild’ than he did on ‘Ragged Glory’ – his method of treating the band ‘like an orchestra’ with a handful of microphones over the top rather than musician by musician has rarely paid off as well as it does here.
‘Milky Way’ is a moody song even for Neil and even for this album. It’s a sort of love song (the closest the album has anyway) of the day when Neil first met Darryl, a rare ‘day without a cloud’. Annoyingly for our book timeline he still won’t tell us when this was! However whereas Pegi brought out the realist in Neil’s romantic (all those songs about doing the school run and driving Harley Davidsons) Darryl seems to bring out Neil’s more cosmic side. ‘There’s no moonshine’ on this special night (always Neil’s symbol for his feelings for Pegi) but there’s plenty of other astral phenomenon as Neil finds himself ‘sailing in the milky way’ as ‘stars collide with memory’. This is no casual fling but something huge and seemingly pre-destined as Neil tells us how overpowering it was and he sounds as surprised as anybody that ‘somehow I survived’. Even though Neil had a happy life he’d worked hard to get he feels the tug of love so strong that it wipes out his memories of his ‘other’ life and that he only realised in retrospect that he had been desperate for someone like this to come along having been at ‘the end of the line’ (whether this is the end of his artistic crest – my guess is that Darryl arrives somewhere around Neil’s re-birth with ‘Freedom’ in 1989 and possibly ‘This Note’s For You’ and its tales of impending divorce in 1988 – or death or something else is left unspoken). Throughout the song is the feeling that this was meant to be, whatever ripples ensued from it. Neil starts it by recognising Darryl in the crowd (at a protest a happens) because she looked ‘like a friend of mine’ (maybe one of his ‘type’ of people in this life or a memory from a past one). It’s a strong verse and the slow spooky melody (a sort of ‘Trans Am’ as played by The Bluenotes) is impressive, wholly different to anything Neil’s given us before, while the verse about Darryl ‘walking like she knew where she was going’ is a classic. However there are some clumsy images here that don’t work as well and just prevent this song from being another late period classic: there’s a ladder that doesn’t lead anywhere with ‘no one climbing’, an ‘ocean liner in the stars’ and I’m not sure if I was Darryl that I would be flattered to be referred to as ‘a mermaid in the milky way’.
‘Eternity’ is this album’s joker in the pack as Neil recycles the riff from ‘I’m Glad I Found You’ for another Darryl love song where everything in Neil’s life is suddenly filled with love: his house, his car and – this being Neil – even his model train set! It’s been so long since Neil sensed this in his life and he now knows he’s made the right decision as he records in joy the first time he did things openly with his new life that meant so much to him: walking through the forest on the Broken Arrow ranch, driving to see the relatives in Canada and pausing his car at the lights on the railway to hold his lover’s hand and gaze into her eyes. It’s lovely to hear Neil this loved up and so sure of his future happiness that he sings about this wonderful thing in his life lasting not just for a little while but ‘eternity’. Neil’s in such a ditsy mood he even gets Crazy Horse to mimic the sound of the railway which is delightful (did Nils realise on getting the call to rejoin the Horse that he was going to spend one of his first recording sessions going ‘click clack clickety-clack woooh’?) The main refrain of this song is ‘Train Of Love’ but ‘Eternity’ doesn’t have much in common with that past song from ‘Sleeps With Angels’ (generally reckoned to be a song of bonding with son Ben); instead my guess is that Neil has been doing more than a little bit of listening to his old pals in CSNY with this song a dead ringer for Graham’s loved-u song for Joni Mitchell ‘Our House’ (via, perhaps, a 1990 Nash song ‘House Of Broken Dreams’ which feels much the way Neil’s house used to feel judging by the lyrics in this song). Short, simple and undistinguished it may be but ‘Eternity’ is so sweet it’s hard not to fall in love with it’s cute lyrics, bright-eyed dancing melody and bushy-eyed performance from a really on it Crazy Horse.
Alas ‘Rainbow Of Colours’ is wretched, a sea shanty for a sinking boat. At their best Crazy Horse can do ‘slow’ like no other band – the sheer noise of the playing means the last note is still playing when the next one rings adding up to a wash of colour and a wall of noise that no one (no even Oasis) can match. At their worst though they can be the most interminably boring band on the planet (well, after The Beautiful South or Coldplay or Radiohead or something like that) and rarely have they been more boring than here on a song that would still be slow if taken at twice the speed. There’s no invention here at all hardly: the tune sounds like another one of Neil’s occasional Dylan rip-offs (until I realised it was actually George Harrison ripping him off on a song he wrote about Bob) and the lyrics are another Rolling Stones rip-off (this is ‘She’s A Rahhhhhnbow’ with the psychedelia taken out and replaced by grunge). It’s an ugly song that harks right back to the right-wing politics of ‘Hawks and Doves’ – no, don’t worry, Neil isn’t becoming a Republican or a Trumpie, but he is waving his American flag and telling naysayers who badmouth the country to get out because ‘you’ll never whitewash those colours away’. Thank goodness a second verse softens the stance, Neil arguing with the people who say ‘there’s no room for all’ because immigration is what makes his newly official home beautiful and there’s nothing left for them back home ‘where their lives lie broken with no chance left at all’. By the end of the song Neil has turned this song into a rallying cry where he and his kind have kicked Trump out, ‘when the people have spoken and the walls are strong’ ending another song with hope. Once again, though, it’s notable how unconvincing Neil sounds when compared to, say, ‘Living With War’ (where you would never doubt George W’s word against his or his choir) or even as recently as 2017’s anti-Trump song ‘Already Great’ (where Neil was cackling with glee that Trump was about to fall). By now Neil sounds like the rest of us, tired and weary at the fighting to get Trump impeached and kicked out of The White House and his flag sounds less beautiful and more tarnished from the events of the past few years.
Thankfully following on from Colorado’s worst song we end on one of the best with the beautiful and haunting ‘I Do’. Way back in 1971 on ‘After The Goldrush’ Neil was sighing over another impending divorce (to first wife Susan Avecedo) asking ‘am I lying to you when I say ‘I believe in you’? By now the famously untrusting Neil has found someone worthy of his belief and tells us that he’s ‘not worried’, which must be a first for him! Neil whispers ‘I do’ as if he’s taking Darryl’s hand in marriage all over again, but in context he’s celebrating all the things they have in common. The biggest of these is that ‘you ask all the questions I do’. Neil is learning from Darryl and her knowledge of the environment and asks her to take him on a visit to all the places she loves. Oddly enough they’re ‘real’ places he’s loved to, in his song lyrics: the big birds flying across the sky (from ‘helpless’ again) and the fish swimming in a crystal clear stream (once a metaphor for Neil’s need to keep pushing on and searching for romance on 1977’s ‘Will To Love’). What usually scares off lesser mortals only leads Darryl to get closer to him as she takes his hand and tells him that they’re safe, that they will always be there (both, perhaps, the natural animals and his own songs). Neil doesn’t usually take comfort from other people, but there’s something in the way she says it that leads him to trust her in a way he never has before, a belief that doesn’t come easy. At last, after forty solo albums and side adventures with CSNY and Buffalo Springfield, Neil sounds at peace and in a whole new level to the naïve hope of ‘Neil Young’, the fireside hats of ‘Harvest’ or the domestic bliss of ‘Comes A Time’. Neil sounds as if he can finally share the heavy burden he’s been carrying around all his life with someone. This song’s melody is as beautiful as the subject matter but it’s played so delicately with nothing above a whisper as Ralph gets out his brushes and Nils gets his turn to sit at the famous pump organ. All this means that when Neil finally sings head-on about his new love, without it being couched in metaphor, it truly sounds like the sun coming out, with a half-hint of the melody from ‘Harvest Moon’ recycled here in a new era of cosy domestic bliss. Simply beautiful and another of Neil’s best and most poignant songs in years.
Thankfully Colorado’s two most beautiful moments and the more complex but similarly inspired songs from the album’s first half make up for a couple of the lapses on Colorado’s second. It’s been a long old time since we last had a Neil Young album that was great all the way through (2005’s Prairie Wind’? 1995’s ‘Mirrorball’? 1994’s ‘Sleeps With Angels’?) and we still aren’t there yet, but you have to say that overall ‘Colorado’ continues the long slow climb upwards during the past decade following a difficult 2000-2010. Neil is finally at peace in his love life after a series of anguished albums wondering if things will ever work out and even though he’s aware of the world going to hell outside his front door he knows that we’ve been the before politically and ecologically and always found a way through. Neil’s new love brings him hope that maybe there will be a fairytale ending after all – something which comes truly as a shock from the man who once brought us the pe3ssimism of ‘On The Beach’. This time, though, the water’s good and the springs are clear and even the thought that the water is lapping around our feet now on what used to be land isn’t enough to wipe the smile off Neil’s face. The result is a sweet album that has it’s head in the clouds but still has time to tell it like it is in a way that only Neil can. Crazy Horse too sound mighty fine for a band fans had long since assumed had gone out to pasture along with Frank Sampedro and the hiring of Nils Lofgren was the only sensible choice, more than proving his worth here as if those last fifty years without him were just a dream. Ralph and Billy, though, too more than play their part and Talbot especially has a great album – all the more so considering his own health issues since the making of ‘Psychedelic Pill’ (including a minor stroke in 2013). ‘Colorado’ is Neil’s album though – or perhaps more especially Darryl Hannah’s album – and it finds him on fine form, speaking from the heart about all of human existence (his own and other people’s), embracing the good, the bad and the ugly. I can’t wait to see where Neil’s muse takes him next, into the following decade and beyond. On the evidence of this album – and the last half-dozen before it – it’s going to be quite a trip!
Other articles from this website you might enjoy reading:
Neil Young and Crazy Horse:
'Neil Young' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/neil-young-1968-album-review.html
'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' (1969) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-everybody.html
‘After The Goldrush’ (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/neil-young-after-goldrush-1970.html?utm_source=BP_recent
'Crazy Horse' (1971) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/news-views-and-music-issue-48-crazy.html
'Harvest' (1972) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/neil-young-harvest-1972.html
'Time Fades Away' (1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/neil-young-time-fades-away-1973.html
'On The Beach' (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/neil-young-on-beach-1974.html
'Tonight's The Night' (1975) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-66-neil-young-tonights-night.html
'Zuma' (1975) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-zuma-1975.html
'American Stars 'n' Bars' (1977) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/news-views-and-music-issue-70-neil.html
'Comes A Time' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/news-views-and-music-issue-29-neil.html
'Rust Never Sleeps' (1979) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2014/01/neil-young-rust-never-sleeps-1979-album.html
'Hawks and Doves' (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/news-views-and-music-issue-26-neil.html
'RelAclTor' (1981) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-re-ac-tor.html
'Trans' (1982) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-84-neil-young-trans-1982.html
'Everybody's Rockin' (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2017/01/neil-young-everybodys-rockin-1983.html
'Old Ways' (1985) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/10/neil-young-old-ways-1985.html
‘Landing On Water’ (1986) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/neil-young-landing-on-water-1986.html
'Life' (1987) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/news-views-and-music-issue-56-neil.html
‘This Note’s For You’ (1988) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/neil-young-this-notes-for-you-1988.html
'Freedom' (1988) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-92-neil-young-freedom-1988.html
'Ragged Glory' (1990) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-ragged-glory.html
'Weld' (1991) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-95-neil-young-weld-1991.html
'Harvest Moon' (1992) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/neil-young-harvest-moon-1992.html
'Sleeps With Angels' (1993) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/news-views-and-music-issue-121-neil.html
'Mirror Ball' (1995) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/news-views-and-music-issue-103-neil.html
'Broken Arrow' (1997) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-broken-arrow.html
‘Silver and Gold’ (2000) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/neil-young-silver-and-gold-2000.html
‘Are You Passionate?’ (2002) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/neil-young-and-mgs-are-you-passionate.html
'Greendale' (2003) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-greendale.html
‘Prairie Wind’(2005) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/neil-young-prairie-wind-2005.html
‘Living With War’ (2006) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/neil-young-living-with-war-2006.html
‘Chrome Dreams II’ (2007) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/neil-young-chrome-dreams-two-2007.html
'Fork In The Road' (2009) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/neil-young-fork-in-road-2009.html
'Le Noise' (2011) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/news-views-and-music-issue-94-neil.html
'A Treasure' (1986/2012) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/news-views-and-music-issue-147-neil.html
‘Psychedelic Pill’ (2012) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-psychedelic.html
'Storytone' (2014) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/neil-young-storytone-2014.html
'The Monsanto Years' (2015) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/neil-young-and-promise-of-real-monsanto.html
'Peace Trail' (2016) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2017/02/neil-young-peace-trail-2016.html
‘The Visitor’ (2017) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/neil-young-and-promise-of-real-visitor.html
The Best Unreleased Neil Young recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/neil-young-best-unreleased-recordings.html
Five Unreleased Albums https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/neil-young-guide-to-five-unreleased.html
Non-Album Recordings Part One 1963-1974 https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/neil-young-non-album-recordings-part.html
Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1977-2016 https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/neil-young-non-album-recordings-part_27.html
Live/Compilation/Crazy Horse Albums Part One 1968-1972 https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/neil-young-livecompilationarchivecrazy.html
Live/Compilation/Crazy Horse Albums Part Two 1977-2016 https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/neil-young-livecompilationarchivecrazy_18.html
Surviving TV Clips 1970-2016
Monday, 30 September 2019
Buy Our E-Book!!! 'Every Step Of The Way - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Monkees' Is Available Now!
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Liam Gallagher “Why Me? Why Not!” (2019)
Shockwave/One Of Us/Once/I’ve Found You/Halo/Why Me? Why Not?/Be Still/Alright Now/Meadow/The River/Gone
Well hello dear readers, how are you? It’s been a while. Amazingly the last AAA album of new studio material came out almost exactly a year ago (The Monkees’ rather scrappy ‘Christmas Party’, the definition of ‘you shouldn’t have’) which suddenly seems a very long time: twelve AAA books, four hundred odd book sales, one relationship that meant the world to me, one less than strong and stable British prime minster and innumerable amounts of social upheaval around the world, if we’re counting. In many ways we now live in a very different, divided world where a good half of us are ruled by tyrants and despots who either got in power through cheating and lying or who didn’t get picked by anyone except a ruthless elite you’ve never heard of. It’s hardly ‘as you were’ is it? More ‘What the?’
Is anything of this reflected in the second Liam Gallagher album? Of course not! Oasis have always existed in their own bubble and the few times they have paid attention to what the outer world has been up to the results have been disastrous (such as Noel G being possibly the last person to ever look pleased to be in the same room as Tony Blair during an invitation to Downing Street in the days when he wasn’t a war criminal. That’s Tony, not Noel, though you might not think that given the sentiments on this CD…) There isn’t any mention of the current social climate and even the interviews asking the younger Gallagher about politics have been turned into point-scoring against his brother over the Brexit referendum (‘I think it’s all nonsense, but at least I voted…Nothing worse than the cunt who doesn’t vote but then has an opinion on everything…sit down Dolly Gallagher!’) So Liam kinda sorta does what he did last time: songs that are poppier than Oasis but ones that when infused with the greatest sneer in music somehow end up turning out more rock and roll anyway. There are no experiments this time though, no under-stated psychedelic opuses as per ‘Chinatown’, no unexpectedly moving emotional outpourings as per ‘Come Back To Me’ and the great dark nights of the soul that are here have a whacking great spotlight shone on them. At least there’s nobody playing the scissors in this band though.
As daft as Noel’s artier music has been lately though, the lack of anything ‘weird’ the biggest problem with this album, which is also the thing that’s helped ‘Why Me Why Not?’ become a million-seller already (well there’s not much competition at the moment is there, except for Ed Sheeran and Dr Who’s son). That seems doubly odd for a second album with a Yoko Ono connotation in a row (‘Why Me?’ and ‘Why Not?’ are Yoko’s two screamiest songs from her primal scream ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album of 1970 to go alongside John’s, although Liam seems to know the phrase better from a pair of paintings –one doodle by Lennon named ‘Why?’ the other a gift from Yoko reading ‘Why Not?’; the last album had the phrase ‘I hibernate and sing while gathering my wings’ taken from a picture hanging on Yoko’s wall at the Dakota): this is Lennon in ‘Imagine’ phase, giving up his thoughts ‘with a bit of honey’ to make them sell. The production of this album is huge. Not that it was small on ‘As You Were’, but just as ‘Morning Glory’ took ‘Definitely Maybe’s already over-stuffed guitars and tripled them so ‘Why Not?’ sounds bigger and bolder and noisier. Virtually every song comes with a calling card of a big fat heavy riff, booming drums and Liam’s vocals in yer face. Every review of ‘Why Not?’ I’ve read so far has called this Liam’s ‘confident’ album where he’s regained his swagger after years of post-Oasis confusion with the under-rated Beady Eye and you can see why Liam and his production team have done it: that’s the sound associated with Oasis even though it hasn’t really been there in the band’s music since the helicopters left at the end of ‘D’Yer Know What I Mean?’ With sales at last shading his brother’s you can see why Liam might be confident about his place in the universe again and indeed in interviews he sounds the most contented he’s been since he was playing stadiums.
That in itself would be great: there are few sounds in this world better than Liam exploding with arrogance at a world that thought they could keep him down forever and we haven’t had that without irony in his music since 1995. But that isn’t what this album is all about. ‘As You Were’ was by and large a plea to Noel to get the old band back together because Liam doesn’t know who he is without it, alongside songs about his divorce from second wife Nicole Appleton. Even plans to tie the knot with personal assistant Debbie Gwyther in 2020 don’t seem to have changed Liam’s tune and he’s more desperate and lost than ever. Last time around we had Liam pretending to put on a show, surrounded by tracks where his vulnerable side peeked out. This time though he’s learnt the act of combining the two, so that every plea for help and every revealing moment of guilt or sorrow comes with a show-off guitar solo and a production that goes ‘ping’. That in itself is a fascinating variation on the old Oasis dilemma (as a rule their 20th century stuff, largely written before they made it, is all brash arrogance and optimism; their 21st century stuff after they discover what fame really is sounds despairing and pessimistic): why not combine both sounds at once? The result is a Liam who instantly sounds as if he’s twenty again but writing lines with the vulnerability of a man who knows his dreams could all come crashing down again the minute he puts a foot wrong. ‘Try me!’ he snarls to the universe. ‘Ok!’ says the universe back. Actually thinking about it, maybe this sound is the perfect accompaniment to the world we live in as Liam plays chicken with his destiny, daring it to collapse on him again as it so spectacularly did a decade ago.
Ironically many reviewers have now started saying ‘at last Liam doesn’t need Noel!’ but the lyrics of ‘Why Me?’ would seem to disagree with that. The elder brother dominates this album even more than the last one, with Liam now ripping off his old band directly the way the pair once did The Beatles. ‘You sold me right up the river!’ is this album’s snarled opening line as ‘Shockwave’ throws Liam’s recent success in the face of his brother and that after a decade of people listening to Noel’s version of how Oasis ended people are actually asking him questions about what really happened at last. Second track ‘One Of Us’ then screws the knife in further, reminding Noel that they haven’t really hung out ‘in sixteen years’ (2003) since a big argument he didn’t start and that his door is still open…even if he has to kick Noel’s in to get near him nowadays. Just as you think that ‘Why Me?’ is going to be one long victory lap though comes ‘Once’ where Liam laments the fact that Oasis ever had to end because however great his current life is ‘you only get to do it once!’ He also gets in the fact that his brother let it go all too soon, that ‘you went down so easy, like a glass of wine!’ ‘Now That I’ve Found You’ is surely Liam’s first open song for his new girlfriend (although given that Liam had fathered a child with Debbie as long ago as 2012 she may well be the inspiration for some of the sweeter Beady Eye songs), but there’s a middle eight that’s surely meant for his brother’s ears again: ‘If you need me make the call, I’ll be there…though I know it’s too late for lullabies the future’s yours and mine’. ‘Halo’ sounds like a direct parody of Noel’s recent work, when third album ‘Who Built The Moon?’ took the imagery of the ‘sun’ from Oasis’ earliest days when it meant divine inspiration caused by poverty suffering and rock and roll and turned it into a sweet throbbing golden glow in a synthesised sky. For Liam, though, the sun still sheee-ines the way it always did and causes him to speak his mind and fight the world on behalf of those who ain’t got nothing. Where Noel’s wife Sara has brought a domestic cosiness and stability to his life, his sister-in-law is painted in more down-to-earth terms, the ‘lager’ that warms him up when life gets too cold. Only once does Liam accept that that Oasis is truly done for on ‘Be Still’, which despite the name is one of the noisiest songs on the album, complete with a lyric that mocks the title of Noel’s second album and says that Liam’s ‘gonna live for something beside chasing yesterdays’. The fact that we’ve got to track seven of the album before Liam moves on from the past, though, suggests otherwise: the entire album sounds like the younger brother trying to get the elder brother to look back at the past, astonished to find that Noel still says ‘no!’ despite knowing what he must be passing up. Next track ‘Alright Now’ does something similar, Liam throwing yet more bile at his brother and the ways he ‘changed’ when he moved out of Manchester to L.A. (Liam was living in Manchester as recently as 2014, moving back in with his mam when Nicole kicked him out) before sighing that he’s ok with it now in the choruses, which by the fifth repeat somehow don’t sound that convincing anymore. All of this is good and it makes sense for Liam to copy what worked so well on his first album, although by the same token there’s nothing here quite as honest, vulnerable and moving as 2017 B-side ‘I Never Wanna Be Like You!’ (where bully turns to victim in the time it takes to hit the middle eight).
Maybe, though, Liam has moved on as the closing trilogy of the album seem to live on an entirely different album. Spacier and more psychedelic, closer to Beady Eye than pure Oasis, Liam spends three songs wondering where his life goes from here and what he does now that the reason he got out of bed in the morning has changed. In a witty riposte to ‘Just Growing Older’, his brother’s very similar song of middle-aged malaise from 2002, the singer who turned forty-seven the day this album came out wonders if he’s growing up too, or whether he’d just going down with a cold. The quiet beating heart of an album that for seven tracks has been too busy showing off its suit of armour to properly care, it’s a fascinating finale that all but saves the album. Suddenly Liam’s usual messages of how his audience are good enough to be anything they want to be and nobody has the right to tell them otherwise comes not from youthful belief but weary realisation: ‘Believe me I know’ Liam sighs, turning from mixed-up adolescent to mixed-up man in the space of a few seconds. Believe me, we do – all the more so given that Liam has spent the first two-thirds of the album still fizzing and spitting like it’s 1994. Suddenly Liam isn’t wearing a parka but sensible shoes and somehow the album is all the better for it, especially finale ‘Gone’ on which Liam (for the first time, like, ever!) admits that his brother might be right, that it’s time to leave the rock and roll stage to another generation of disillusioned youths and let them get on with it. Liam, though, knows that we’ll miss him when he’s gone and we will. It’s a brave track, all the more so because it’s the one song on the album where Liam truly does sound ageless and if somebody had told me this was an outtake from those first album sessions I would have believed them.
‘Why Me? Why Not?’ is, then, an album of two halves – even if one of those halves is decidedly longer than the other. The first eight tracks has Liam singing with arrogance that he’s as great as anybody still around, the last three are him digging deep on yet another album he wishes had been made by Oasis rather than on his own, figuring that he’s as capable of depth and soul-searching as any writer and that being the greatest rock voice of his generation doesn’t make him immune to having real feelings. For all his bravado Liam is very much a team player (one of Noel’s better rants was ‘dogs are stupidly loyal and will sit with whoever. Liam is a dog person. I’m a cat person’) and as per ‘As You Were’ it’s the team side of things that lets it down. The backing band don’t quite get that the Oasis wall of noise came from multiple layers of careful meticulous playing layered on top of each other – everything here is a chisel banged into a statue, not a million brush-strokes being painted at once. As with the first album, a bunch of young wannabe pop writers are locked in a room with Liam and still come out subservient to his voice, with every line sounding as Liam could have written it (sadly he still seems to think of himself as a full-time singer who only writes part-time, despite the fact that the majority of the best Oasis-related songs from the past fifteen years are from his pen). I wish, though, that they hadn’t been quite this poppy: ‘As You Were’s main drive was pop too but Liam was playful with it, alternating with rock and roll crunch, psychedelia and the charming indescribable oddity that was ‘Chinatown’. This album is just pop with more guitars, wildly thrashing about desperately trying to get our attention. When you have Liam Gallagher in a band you don’t need anything except his vocal to get your audience’s attention and all too often this album sounds wrong, even when what it is saying is mostly right. Oasis often got knocked by lesser ears for having no subtly whatsoever, but this is the first certainly Liam-related album you could possibly say that of if you listen closely. As with ‘As You Were’ it’s the songs chosen as the album’s first two singles that suffer most from this as well, as if the powers-that-be think that people are only going to believe it’s Liam Gallagher if he’s shouting. As the best of this album shows Liam can do much more than that.
One puzzle is that there aren’t more love songs on this album. Liam’s first run of songs were all written for Nicole and surprised many in the Oasis community for being as soppy as someone with that voice in a band with that many guitar overdubs could possibly be. ‘Songbird’ and ‘I’m Outta Time’ turning her into Linda McCartney to his Paul, a soulmate who brought out his sweeter side. Following the hazy confusion and dilemma of the Beady Eye years (does he patch things up with pop-star Nicole or leave the family home and children for a new adventure with his own employee?) Debbie sounds more of the ‘Yoko’ to Liam’s ‘John’. Throughout this album she keeps testing him, making him see things he’s never seen before. Just as Noel is settling down to the comfort and stability he craved during his years of fire with Meg Matthews, so Liam is being made alive by his new missus. He had to change his life completely to be with her (‘I lit my heart in a funeral blaze’ Liam sings sadly about walking out on his family in ‘Be Still’) and she’s still not done with keeping him on his toes yet. He thought his heartbreak would be over ‘now that I’ve found you’ but finds that he’s busy making love to her ‘ghost’, unable to truly work out who is lover is as she keeps changing in front of him, luring him on to get to know her better. ‘Keep moving!’ has been Liam’s mantra since childhood, but he finds to his shock on ‘Be Still’ that his girlfriend is way ahead of him, pushing him to change with her whilst staying true to his principles as he changes. Liam, never born of the greatest attention span in the world, knows that his knew partner is going to keep him on his toes and second-guessing her forever. No wonder that album title came from Yoko: the other theme that runs through this album is the shock that someone full of that many wild and wonderful ideas would dare to be with someone pigeon-holed as one-dimensional as Liam’s character in the mainstream press. Why Liam? Well, says his wife-to-be, why not? And that’s the real reason Liam ultimately sounds confident on this album: not because his career is going well but because someone he values so much values him too. It may not be that long after all before Liam starts getting in a Yoko-type to play scissors behind him on stage, but the difference between himself and his brother is that he’s getting married to her, not consigning her to a bit-part on stage behind the twenty-two keyboard players. The pair are due to marry in 2020 (‘Am I inviting Noel? Yes, but only because my mam made me’).
The result is a worthy second album that continues the sudden growth spurt of ‘As You Were’ without being quite as groundbreaking or adventurous. Like ‘Morning Glory’ before it, this is a second album that’s clearly had a careful eye over it to make sure it will sell as many copies as possible, even though the brilliance of the first album was that copies sold couldn’t have been further away from the minds of the pioneers who had to record it that way or else. Liam is a much more talented soul than he’s ever given credit for and again he turns in some fine lines across this album that resonate with the zing of a Liam media quote but with a greater depth behind them. He also sounds magnificent on this album: a quarter century of singing has not dimmed his passion or the way every line sounds like a life-or-death struggle and the fact that he’s singing lines written by an older, wider head with the same snarl of his youth is one of this album’s greatest strengths. He has, though, alas, lost his gift for melody as heard on his first album and much of Beady Eye’s work which together with the overly-shiny production values makes this an album in danger of sounding all the same on first hearings. Even more so than ‘As You Were’ this also isn’t a band to keep the various ex-members of Oasis awake at night, the younger charges struggling to sound as loud and proud as the singer more than twice their age. This alum is also, sadly, less fun and corporate: there’s no ‘special limited edition’ of this album with pens to colour in Liam’s eyebrows for instance, just a very boring stock I-guess-there’s-kind-of-a-psychedelic-feel-so-this’ll-do front cover that makes Liam look like The Queen’s drunken nephew immortalised on a stamp and which in stark contrast to the music airbrushes Liam to look ridiculously young. There is, though, nothing that getting rid of record company interference couldn’t solve and there is much to be proud of here. The rehabilitation of Liam as the thinking man’s thug, refusing to take no for an answer and then worrying about it afterwards, continues unbroken from before. Long may it continue. Why buy this album? Why the hell not! There’s not much else of interest out there is there?...
Musically this album’s default mode is ‘Lyla’, especially opening track and first single ‘Shockwave’. This might be in response for Noel going for much the same template with his High Flying Birds, but Liam’s production has less overdubs and is trying less hard to be oh so desperately modern. The lyrics too are pure Liam, a long rant at his brother that alternates between raw hurt that someone so close to him could do this to him and his determination to be better. Some of the punches hit nicely: Liam borrows back the word ‘sunsheeeine’ that dominated Noel’s last album and makes it his own, sneering at his new brand of synthesised pop with a dig that he’s still the Beatles while his brother’s now more Rolling Stones: ‘You could have ‘looked for the sunshine’ but you had to paint the whole thing black!’ There are lots of references to Noel’s favourite solo metaphors too, such as ‘river’ (‘you sold me down the…’) and fire (‘you’re gonna burn!’) Liam also goes way over the top and is all but laughing at himself at the end with surely his weirdest chorus so far: ‘You’re a snake, you’re a weasel, you’re a tadpole in the sea!’ After a decade of wondering why people have been listening to his brother and not him you can also forgive Liam a little smugness as he gets back to doing what he does best and boasts, figuring that the music he’s making reverberates like a ‘shockwave’ around the world. After so many years wondering who he was it’s good to hear Liam sounding as if he knows it. However, as with much of this record, the point would have been better made if Liam had gone for an all-our rock and roll attack, the sort of thing his brother considers himself too good to bother making anymore in his world of keyboards and people playing scissors. This is a song that’s desperately trying to make a lot of noise just for the hell of it but the backing band only know how to roll and the ‘hey!’s borrowed from ‘Hey Now’ just sound awkward and embarrassing here. It’s all a bit ‘Be Here Now’ – overblown and repeating what came before blown up to sound huge. Ultimately the song is a weak choice as a single and fails to be the second ‘Rock and Roll Star’ it so desperately wants to be, ending up a whole lot of whinging and not much more. Even so, it’s still better than Lennon’s ‘How Do You Sleep?’ (aimed at McCartney) which is another clear model for this song and better than all of Noel’s pot-shots in Liam’s direction from his last woeful CD. Not sure it deserved to become Liam’s best-selling solo work so far, though.
‘One Of Us’ is a much better song ruined by an even more ludicrously OTT production. Liam clearly wrote it as a power ballad before some numpty somewhere decided to dress it up with surface strings and modern-day drumming which, ironically enough, makes this second tale of brotherly hate sound more like the High Flying Birds than anything else Liam has come up with so far. This is one of those songs that would have benefitted from the subtle fringe psychedelia of Beady Eye as it’s effectively a softer, gentler ‘Don’t Brother Me’ as Liam talks about the real cause of the Oasis split away from Noel’s lurid tales of thrown fruit and broken guitars. It starts not in 2008, when Noel walked away, but in 2003 and the difficult tour promoting ‘Heathen Chemistry’. Liam sees this as the last time he was alone with his brother and it wasn’t much of a conversation, just an exchanged scowl and a thrown cigarette as Noel offers to ‘see me on the other side’. Presumably Noel meant the other side of the gig and Liam is still waiting for the contact, but given the events that have happened since you can tell Liam is still pondering what was probably only meant as a throwaway sentence. Did Noel mean the ‘other side’ of the band’s demise? Or will they never speak until death? Liam ain’t giving up trying to offer the olive branch he’s been holding out, in between twitter insults, for four albums now. Quoting from ‘Twist and Shout’ he tries to impatiently shoo his brother past his mental deadlock, ‘C’mon c’mon’ Liam pleas, ‘I know you want more!’ But yet again he doesn’t get the attention from his big brother he craves. In what would be quite a sweet chorus if it weren’t sneered for extra sarcasm Liam pleads that his brother doesn’t belong in the world as a solo star ignoring rock and roll: ‘You’re one of us! You just act like you don’t remember’ and references his favourite Oasis song ‘but you said we’d live forever!’ After three straight repeats of the chorus Liam gives up and mutters darkly ‘it’s a shame’ but he’s still prepared to give Noel his due and says that despite his silence he’s still ‘one of us’. Interestingly when pressed in interviews if this song is really about Noel all he’ll say is that it’s about ‘family’ and he has another brother, Paul. However Paul didn’t form a band with him and write ‘Live Forever’ (it’s odd that Liam should choose to be cagey now too if this really is a song designed to make Noel reform Oasis). The result is a song that’s massively flawed as presented here: this should be a track that has its raw edges showing, as Liam demonstrates how powerful Oasis-style rock and roll can be. Instead it sounds limp and even Liam’s powerful voice sounds more pussy-cat than lion when set against clattering drums and sugary strings (which are million miles away from ‘Champagne Supernova’, still the best use of violins in rock and roll since The Beatles). Chosen as the third album single, period live performances with a stripped-down sound are far better and well worth seeking out. Sadly the live performances, unlike the record, don’t feature Liam’s son Gene playing bongos. Hilariously he asked his dad if he could keep it quiet because being seen to play on his dad’s records wasn’t ‘cool’, to which Liam has responded by mentioning it in every interview I’ve seen for the album so far!
The second album single was ‘Once’ and it’s an interesting choice – one of the better songs on the album, it’s more from the heart and not really obvious singles material. Though slower and sadder than most Oasis songs traditionally, it’s also the song with the most feel from the old days, as Liam’s voice is heard above anything else in the mix which is kept to a simple sort of gallumph. The tigger of rock and roll sounds more like Eeyore than ever as yet again he reaches out to his brother and tries to persuade him to reform Oasis, only this time there’s a twist – in his heart of hearts Liam knows it will never be the same and golden opportunities like that only come around once in a lifetime. Using Lennon’s plodding chords from one of his first post-Beatle songs ‘Isolation (from the superb ‘Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ album) Liam remembers the days that used to be. ‘It was easier to have fun back then when we have nothing!’ he scowls, temporally wishing himself back on the dole and dreaming of the big time before he realised what a scam being famous really was. Wondering what his younger self might make of what he’s become, at 47, Liam laughs that he’d be ‘so uncool’, his routine not drinking or partying but taking the kids to school and ‘cleaning out the swimming pool’ (a great line and hardly the sort of thing you think about when you’re dreaming of being a millionaire, though something tells me Liam wasn’t doing it himself!) He remembers how inspiring his brother seemed, finding the perfect words for the way Liam himself felt and how they were both eager to wake up in the morning and ‘do it all again’. But dreams don’t last: his brother grew distant and the band broke up. As much as you sense Liam loved the music what he really misses is the camaraderie of being in a band, of connecting so well with the brother he’d long secretly admired. All there is to fill the vacuum where the dream once was is pain, in an eerie verse that almost sounds as if Liam is self-harming, cutting himself to block out the numbness and at least feel something. As expected there’s another dig at his brother, for ‘going down so easy – like a glass of wine’ when the going got difficult, which causes Liam’s voice to erupt from middle-aged sadness to the kind of sneer his twenty-year-old self would approve of. For the most part though this song is just sad and left deliciously raw without the touching-up and commercialising of the rest of the album. We’ve heard Liam sad before (it’s often his default setting in fact: ‘I’m Outta Time’, the first half of the brilliant ‘Wigwam’, most of his contributions to second Beady Eye album ‘Be’) but somehow this song sounds sadder than all of them. He lost something great he knows he will never ever get back again and a million Oasis fans’ hearts melt alongside him here. ‘Once’ is also proof of just how highly Liam thinks of his brother, even if this song doesn’t go quite as far as ‘Born On A Different Cloud’ in it’s very obvious respect for Noel. His brother, you suspect, will be a long time coming before he writes a similar song for Liam.
Finally Liam moves on to the other big figure in his life of the last few years, girlfriend Debbie. ‘Now That I’ve Found You’ is the far more obvious choice for album single. It’s clearly loosely based on Liam’s breakthrough song ‘Songbird’, with similar chord changes and a delightfully fluffy feel we only get from Liam when he’s in love. We’re so used to hear Liam in control and confident that for the most part this song is nothing special: she makes him feel he can leap oceans in a stride, ride the stars and build bridges. Of course: he’s a rock and roll star isn’t he? Dig beneath the surface though and this song is fascinating. Liam isn’t messing around chatting a girl up here as you’d expect from his image; he’s desperate and the part of the song that really catches your ear is the deeply uncharacteristic plea: ‘don’t go!’Liam, you sense, needed Noel around to boost his confidence much more than the other way around and now he’s found someone else to fill that vacuum he’s not letting them out of his sight. John and Yoko are clearly providing more inspiration than mere titles as beneath the cute poppy music this lyric recalls Beatle songs ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’. At one stage Liam doubts himself even here though, telling himself off for falling in love like a teenager and snarling either to him or to her that he’s too long in the tooth to croon ‘lullabies’, that he knows how hard and messy love can be. Even so, this isn’t a dark song, it’s a light song and after the misery of, well, much of the last seven albums Liam has worked on now sounds like a breath of fresh air. Maybe things are going to go well at last and he’ll get the happy ending that Oasis characters haven’t really had in song since 1997.
‘Halo’ continues the theme of this cleverly sequenced album, another ‘Lyla’ style stomper where Liam half-mocks and half-sympathises with his brother’s recent songs for wife Sara. Just as she ‘feels like a force of nature’ (via the first real love song big brother wrote for her) so Debbie feels to Liam like every nature metaphor under the sun, so amazingly real after searching in vain for a woman like this only in his imagination. The sun has always been a big Oasis metaphor: it’s generally the gift of divine inspiration heard in songs like ‘Turn Up The Sun’ ‘Morning Glory’ and in reverse ‘Cast No Shadow’. Lately Noel has spent three very long albums explaining to us that the sun is wife Sara rather than God. Liam doesn’t go quite that far: Debbie is the ‘halo round the sun’, the physical embodiment of love which is the closest he can understand as an earthling. Not that this lyric is all that spiritual; perhaps laughing at himself for going too far in verse one Liam turns it into a joke by verse two, having his missus as the ‘mittens’ and ‘can of lager’ to warm his soul up. He’s also stuck by a quandary that’s actually occurred to more than one AAA writer down the years: he wants his lover to stay as natural and unique as she is, but also terrified that she might fly away from him so he’s caught between letting her fly and tying her up, a contradiction that’s not resolved by the end of the song. The music suggests that he’s happy just to enjoy it however it seems, however, the pounding chords mimicking the best of his brother’s last batch of songs ‘Black and White Sunshine’, which did a similar thing for wife Sara. Liam’s take isn’t quite as well written but is infectiously groovy and is another album grower.
Title track ‘Why Me? Why Not?’ is the album’s first real clunker (perhaps the album’s only real clunker). It’s a statement of defiance written from someone who fully expected after two low-selling albums by Beady Eye and being trashe3d by Noel in the press to be a failure waking up to find out that he’s actually a success. Both its middling tempo waddle and the stream-of-conscious lyrics recall another Oasis title track, that of ‘Be Here Now’. Liam is basically just throwing out couplets that have nothing in common with each other except a few that occasionally get lucky and make a rhyme; while this style of song can work (as a fan of the album ‘Exile On Main Street’ Liam must have heard ‘Ventilator Blues’, which was every line Mick ‘n’ Keith had leftover in a notebook that they couldn’t fit into a song added to a slow blues lick but which is much better than it sounds) this one sadly doesn’t. Liam starts the song as if he’s playing hide and seek with his audience (‘coming, ready or not!’) before describing himself as a ‘tight-lipped jedi’ and telling the audience that the message of all his songs is to ‘stand your ground and defy anyone that tries to tell you that you ain’t beautiful!’ (actually a really good fit for Oasis lyrics all round). Alas though those are the only real good bits: the rest involves recycling (‘The road is long’ is how Hollies hit ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’ starts interestingly enough, given that it’s a song about supporting your siblings no matter what), banalities (‘Don’t put your love on the run when you’re staring out a loaded gun’) and borrowed banalities (‘Hold on, hold tight, show love, it’s alright’ via Dave Dee Dozy and the Stevie Wonder song ‘Uptight’ brother Noel got into trouble for stealing on Oasis B-side ‘Step Out’). Together with the over-polished production – which is trying so hard to go for juvenile ‘I Am The Walrus’ but ended up at middle-aged ‘Watching The Wheels’ – it all ends up an unhappy stodgy mess that not even Liam’s vocals can save. I guess the good news is that if his brother was doing this then it would undoubtedly have had a scissor solo in the middle for no apparent reason.
‘Be Still’ is a second song in a row about Liam’s career resurrection, which is more melodic if still not as memorable as the love songs or the ones about his brother. Despite the meditative title this is the biggest rocker on the album, alternating between a cackling menace a la ‘Columbia’ on the verses and a snarling all-out attack on the choruses (‘Bring It On Down’ via ‘Headshrinker’). The lyric may well be significant when look back in ten years or so or might end up being another red herring depending what happens; what it says though is that Liam has finally given up on Oasis and accepts that’s a dream that won’t be coming anymore. Unlike ‘Once’ though Liam is happy to let it go, finally moving on and embracing the present. In the best couplet on the album Liam bids goodbye to a part of his heart that will always be Oasis in a ‘funeral blaze’ and gets in another dig at his brother via the name of second album ‘Chasing Yesterdays’ (a title Noel admits he used out of desperation and hated almost immediately although it suits his best solo set so far rather well). Liam, of course, now thinks looking back is stoopid (never mind the fact that he’s spent most of his songs for the past decade now looking back over his shoulder!) The Gallagher’s mam Peggy amazingly enough gets her first direct mention in song despite being so much of the Oasis story. Liam’s remembered message from his childhood is her saying ‘you gotta keep moving’ – more polite than ‘stand up beside the fireplace, take that look from off your face’ maybe, if not quite as inspired. Liam, recovering from heartbreak twice over (Noel/Oasis and Nicole), takes comfort in the idea that is always changing and he won’t always be sad. By the end of the chorus he realises what he has to do: while the rest of the universe goes crazy, be still. Though not wholly original (the melody is Oasis by numbers and some of the lyric borrowed – the unlikely phrase ‘the wheel’s still in spin’ is from Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A Changin’) this song feels very much like the sort of thing Liam should be doing, as cocky and brash and arrogant as anything from his youth but coming from the darker places that only someone whose been hurt can understand. Rallying on the troops (fellow rock and rollers or his Beady Eye cousins?) Liam snarls ‘jump out the trenches boys for we were born to die!’ before yelling ‘I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long!!!’ with a voice that for the first time on the album finds a sentiment it was born to sing. So have we Liam, so have we.
‘Alright Now’ may have an incredibly weak chorus (‘Baby it’s alright now’ – there are at least fifty songs I could point you to that say just that) but in many ways it’s the most inspired song here. The ‘Chinatown’ of the album, it’s a rare attempt to do something unusual and was clearly born out of the words rather than the music with Liam putting the riffs aside for what’s in many ways a poem set to the simplest music that will fit. It sounds like another dig at his brother, although it’s worth pointing out that this one is direct and as such is the one lyric here that might not be about Noel at all (heck, technically it could actually be about Bonehead). He recalls though how someone changed once they got to L.A. and became famous, no longer just one of the boys from a Manchester street gang. Liam sneers that ‘since twenty-six, since 40 Licks’ you been moving through the fog’. Funnily enough ’40 Licks, a Rolling Stones compilation recognised by fans as being a little on the bloated side, came out in 2002 when Noel was twenty-five so the maths isn’t far out and the year also coincides with the moment his brother rather lost his way as Oasis’ driving energy circa ‘Heathen Chemistry’. Recalling how someone got ‘petrified’ by pinball lights, they reach back into themselves and stop joining in with the fun, never communicating what is on their minds. So far so Noel, but oddly Liam has them suddenly walking away from the drinking and becoming an alcoholic. This really isn’t Noel at all (drugs you betcha, but booze not really) so is this song about Oasis drummer Alan White? Liam was close to Whitey and hung out with him drinking far more than he ever did is brother (or Andy and Gem even) and was deely hurt when the drummer quit the band in 2004 leaving him feelin a little bit isolated. Whitey was, for the record, born in the same year and just five months before Noel so the timing is just as loosely fitting too. The lines about the figure ‘desperately calling’ someone’s name who doesn’t reply meanwhile fits with both. The L.A. bit is even less fitting for Whitey than it is with Noel though and the part about ‘I wonder if you’re listening’ also sounds like a plea to big brother to pay Liam some attention…Whoever the song is about Liam clearly feels affection for them and even puts his sneer aside for the chorus that switches to the present day, when they can get along ‘alright now’ anytime they fancy getting in touch. Given that there’s probably in-references in this song only this person knows about, one hopes that they do.
‘Meadow’ begins an album-closing run of songs that are quite unusual for Liam. There was a point in time, during the late-period ‘Morning Glory’ sessions into ‘Be Here Now’ where it sounded as if Oasis were swapping their traditional punkish rock and roll for something more prog. Despite the success of ‘Champagne Supernova’ (an epic if ever there was one!) and the presence of multiple helicopter sound effects Oasis never fully made good on their prog feel. ‘Meadow’, though, has everything except the mellotron – a trippy lyric, a trippy vocal effect and a melody that sounds as if it’s being fused out of LSD droplets. Even Beady Eye never got quite this wobbly! Liam is clearly talking to himself on this one, worrying that he’s getting a cold before talking about making lasting changes to his life that will make him happier. He’s haunted by ‘shadows in my mind’ and longs for an empty space to think big thoughts – a meadow would do he figures, even though he’s already told us it’s raining outside. For once the album’s production values rescue a slight song rather than torpedoing a promising one, with the delicious addition of the ‘varispeeding’ effect invented by Beatle engineer Geoff Emerick whereby Liam’s ‘normal’ vocal is played through a rotating cabinet really fast so that it sounds all papery and thin (which makes the song even more like ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’). There’s something deeply unsettling about hearing *that* voice, always so direct and raw, as a prematurely aged old man that’s quite compelling and the result digs closer to psychedelia than most post-1960s bands ever get. Nonetheless there’s no taking away from the fact that this is the emptiest song on the album, with no sense of urgency despite the promise Liam makes to himself here to turn his life around.
One of Noel’s best songs of recent years was ‘The Riverman’, where big brother cast himself as the hapless naïve to his wife’s understanding of the powers of nature. Liam’s ‘The River’ is, of course, angrier and sturdier. He’s known all that for years and has been waiting by the riverside for a lover to come and ‘ave a go (if she thinks she’s hard enough). To his shock his new girlfriend is. That, though, is only the briefest part of a song that is really another rant about the music business (there were lots on ‘As You Were’) and how Liam is desperately searching for a band worthy to pass the rock and baton on to before putting it back smugly in his pocket because he’s still the last of the great rock and roll (as opposed to pop) stars. ‘Get out of your clouds of weed, get offa your time machines!’ Liam cackles, desperate for someone out there under the age of forty to discover something new and make music-collecting cool again. He’s annoyed at how compliant the millennial generation are, so used to the dole queue Oasis once knew well and so scared of losing their jobs in a credit crunch recession that they agree to anything, including a marketing department softening all their raw edges so that they all sound the same. Underneath it all, though, Liam so recognises the pain he once felt, the misery that your life is written out for you and it’s horrible from the cradle to the grave, that no one will give you a fair chance. He worries, though, that the youth of today are following all the ‘wrong’ people: ‘Don’t believe celebrities, the money-sucking MPs!’ is the one line on the album that suggests Liam has even heard of The News, never mind remembered to switch his TV on to watch it. Naturally Liam performs this song like every Oasis track ever written, rather than the rather limp artificial pop of all of today’s music-makers (Noel, sadly, included). Sadly, though, while it’s a good idea to pull that sort of thing off this song should soar like an eagle and punch like a kangaroo with the same teeth-on-edge controlled mayhem as ‘Definitely Maybe’. The backing band don’t know how to do that though and we end up with a song that sounds like an outtake from ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ instead.
Just as Liam does seem to be the confident arrogant so and so many reviewers are pegging him for again, though, in sweeps final track ‘Gone’ where the singer repeats his first solo album (and indeed both Beady Eye albums) with a track that tries to tie his career up in a ribbon ‘just in case’ the singer never gets to add to it. As a side note, the presence of Michael Tighe in the writing credits suggest that this edgy, defensive song is an outtake from ‘As You Were’ either as song or as recording though – it’s notably more paranoid and less brash than the rest of this album! Death has been a constant theme of his brother’s work since ‘Live Forever’ – peaking with ‘Stop The Clocks’, the Oasis outtake from 2004 that somehow became a solo track in 2011. This is the first time Liam has really done the same and it’s a typically fragile track masquerading as a fight. ‘You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone!’ screams the tune and delivery as all mayhem breaks loose. ‘Please don’t forget me!’ pleads the lyrics beneath all the bombast. Contradicting the last track immediately, Liam admits that whatever he thinks of them the changing of the guard is here and he can’t hold on to relevance much longer. Figuring that somebody must still be listening, though, he ‘wants to tell you how I feel’. At first it sounds as if he’s talking to ‘us’, but somehow the song becomes another one for Noel, pleading with his brother that it’s never too late to heal old wounds but that ‘you cut off the love with a vine that can never come back’. Liam could also, of course, be singing to Nicole, with this the first album where he truly knows their marriage is over – the line about how this someone ‘smashed all the plants up’ when they left doesn’t sound much like Noel. Chances are it’s a bit of both, Liam at the end of a long learning curve where he lost most of the people close to him. Unfortunately what started out as a ‘thank you’ song becomes a ‘fuck you’ song by the end, this album of relative maturity and wisdom ending on another Liam cackle: ‘I wanna hear you say it, I wanna hear you beg me’. He has found closure though, admitting to himself that his on-again off-again relationships are probably all gone by now and he has to surround himself with new people, maybe even the new set of fans he’s gained since going solo (and appealing to a younger, poppier demographic than late period Oasis or Beady Eye). Is Liam happy? Well, is he ever? But at least he knows that we, at least, will miss him when he goes and not just dismiss him as his brother’s stooge. That seems to count for something.
Overall, then, ‘Why Me? Why Not?’ is a fascinating bundle of contradictions. While musically it sadly doesn’t make the most of the many directions Liam could have gone in, without the playfulness or sense of adventure of ‘As You Were’, lyrically it’s even sharper as Liam digs deeper into himself (and somehow managing to do this while juggling the same set of younger pop writer collaborators as last time). One minute Liam’s holding out olive branches like an age-old guru, the next minute he’s waving them angrily in people’s faces like a toddler having a tantrum, while in between he laments the passing of the years for his family, his marriage and his music. There is a re-birth here though lifts this album even when it’s taking the easy way out and just becoming annoying repetitive pop music: Liam has hit rock bottom and is finding his way again in his personal life, with the rays of sunshine as he realises that life maybe isn’t so bad a worthy backdrop for an album and a rare chance for fans to hear him happy. What this will do for his career from here on out is anyone’s guess: he could abandon all this success in a heartbeat to get back to basics and reinvent rock and roll, he could become an adventurous pioneer of psychedelia-trance music but with an edge missing from the High Flying Birds, he could become a writer of pure instinct and feeling and brutal honesty as per the early solo Lennon – or he could drop it all and write silly pop love songs till the end of time with a market to lap that sort of thing up. Maybe, just maybe, he will finally get a message through to his brother and do what he’s wanted to do for eleven difficult years now (namely reform Oasis). But even if he only got to do that once Liam’s part in the rock and roll hall of fame is assured. It will be fascinating to see if he can further add to that legacy or whether the public’s current infatuation with him will disappear in the blink of a Beady Eye. For now though Liam is still more than worthy of our love and attention and is making music one hell of a lot better than any of the younger kids waiting by the riverside to take over from him. Why Liam? Why the hell not!