Monday, 6 November 2017

Liam Gallagher "As You Were" (2017)





Liam Gallagher ‘As You Were’ (2017)

Wall Of Glass/Bold/Greedy Soul/Paper Crown/For What It’s Worth/When I’m In Need/You Better Run!/I Get By/Chinatown/Come Back To Me/Universal Gleam/I’ve All I Need



‘You were sold a one direction, I believe the resurrection’s on!’

For years now Liam has been having fun stirring up trouble on his twitter account, hitting it to his enemies, sometimes world leaders, sometimes his friends and mostly his brother. With every tweet for years he’s signed off ‘as you were’ as if he is offering us a re-set button, a chance to get back to where we started in the conversation, street slang from someone whose as street as it gets. In retrospect it’s such an obvious title for Liam’s first solo album that it’s a wonder it didn’t come before he’d written a note – this is, after all, an album delayed by the death of the much lamented Beady Eye who as we predicted in our review for ‘Be’ in these very pages had hit a brick wall and lost the momentum of their stunning debut record ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ and which comes a full four years after Liam’s last released note in the public eye – by far the longest gap there has been since he was a teenager. The irony is that this album isn’t as we were at all – ‘The winds of change must blow’ is virtually the last line heard on this album, ‘there’s no point looking back’. The truth lies somewhere between those two extremes: like ‘Different Gear’ it’s a subtly different update of everything Liam’s done before but in a very different setting: whisper it quietly but this album is almost ‘posh’ in places, with a massive production feel that even brother Noel’s records can’t match, a big epic update made with several outside writers and a whole bank of outside musicians that nevertheless still somehow manages to sound like pure Liam. The working title for this album, right up until the eleventh hour, was ‘Bold’ – named for the second song on the album. But Liam, rediscovering his sense of humour along with his confidence, realised that this made the record sound like a make of washing powder. So ‘As you were’ it was, even though it isn’t.

For a start there are two big differences that makes this album unlike anything else he’s ever done before. One is that he’s a solo star – a reluctant one, unlike his brother, with Liam snapping in the press (and his twitter feed, naturally) that he hated the idea of going solo and that his brother forced it on him by breaking up Oasis eight years ago. Liam once spent his twitter day comparing himself to a dog and Noel to a cat: he’s affectionate, loyal, needs to be surrounded by people and is quite a social animal while Noel walks to his own rules (and drinks a lot of milk). Noel often hints that he was looking to go solo the minute he joined his brother’s band, but Liam’s first drive for becoming a musician was social: he wanted to fill in time between signing on at the dole with people he enjoyed. Noel was born ambitious, desperate to make his mark on the world – at first, for Liam, his biggest ambition was annoying his neighbours and pulling the girls. Liam has never had a whole album resting on himself before (Beady Eye being a far more democratic unit than Oasis ever was) and clearly didn’t want to here. Signing with Warner Brothers, when asked how the early ideas for the album were going Liam sheepishly admitted that he wasn’t used to working on his own without good friends to bash his ideas and had only got two songs ready he actually liked. Warner Brothers then ordered him to work with two outside writers in Andrew Wyatt and Michael Tighe that he had never heard of, never mind worked with (the former is from the band ‘Mike Snow’, the latter had worked with Jeff Beck).

The second is that Liam hasn’t just split from his band since the last time we heard him but from wife number two too, leaving him alone in more ways than one recently. Funnily enough Liam married Nicole Appleton in 2008 during the dying days of Oasis. Their marriage lasted all through the Beady Eye years until 2014 when strain from the band’s low sales and the need for constant touring saw it begin to unravel and an affair Liam had with a female American journalist which resulted in an extra-marital daughter killed it. Liam spends much of this album guilty, clearly addressing ‘For What It’s Worth’ to his ex and admitting that no words can ever put things right (‘Sometimes we just lose our way’). Apologies are a big theme of this album actually: even though his twitter feed is frequently looking for a fight with Noel, actually Liam’s songs have always been the ones keenest to make up and have an Oasis reunion. Other than the cackling ‘Don’t Brother Me’, Beady Eye’s songs are littered with ‘please come back messages’ to big brother – the gorgeous ‘Kill For A Dream’, the eerie ‘The Beat Goes On’, the sighing ‘Just Saying’ and the sad lament ‘Ballroom Figured’. Even ‘Don’t Brother Me’ isn’t that big a dig (‘Three Ring Circus’ is arguably more so, though it’s rules are null and void now Liam is a one-man-band not part of a power trio). That continues on this album: though Liam cackles on excellent bonus track ‘Never Wanna Be Like You’ (a track that’s clearly looking for a fight with Noel, ‘Come on come on who are you? No one no one ain’t that true?’) elsewhere he’s much more apologetic. ‘For What It’s Worth’ works equally well as apology to brother as wife and ‘I Get By’ sounds to me like a song from one brother to another too. However it’s the band’s fans that Liam has most fun addressing, with ‘I’ve All I Need’ paying tribute to everyone who ever stayed loyal, Liam telling us that we’re his ‘real’ fans and he didn’t need the extras that came in the mid-1990s, even ‘thanking us for all our support’ which isn’t something Liam’s ever felt the need to do before!

That’s not very rock and roll is it? Songs about thanking fans for staying loyal and tracks about the missus and divorce played by a bunch of strangers? Music at its best is a bunch of mates fighting the whole world and representing the people without a voice – certainly that’s how Liam has always worked up till now. This album had the feel of  a Traveling Wilburys supergroup about it, not the best omen. Hearing the first two singles from the album (the weak-kneed Oasis sound of ‘Wall OF Glass’ and ‘Bold’) didn’t help my optimism much. Neither did a moving but messy performance at the tribute concert for the victims of the Manchester Arena attack when Liam stole the show from under Ariana Grande’s nose (Noel played the first concert when Manchester Arena was opened instead) where the singer was on top form but his band were a little wet behind the ears – an Oasis tribute act that couldn’t match Beady Eye’s raw precision. As one of the Eye’s biggest fans I was dreading this album to be honest, expecting it to be a step down (Noel’s solo records haven’t exactly warmed me to the idea of one brother working without the other – or their Beady Eye substitutes).

Somehow though it works. Often it doesn’t just work but blows my socks off. Liam sounds effortlessly like he always had but still goes somewhere new. His new writers have somehow understood his style – to the point where it’s the two songs Liam wrote solo that sounds the least like his traditionally grunt, while encouraging him to go back to the half-experimental style of Beady Eye at their best (‘Wigwam’ is still my pick as the best AAA song of the 21st century and Liam wrote that alone). The backing band have got it together, with a sweeter more saccharine production than anything Liam has worked on before, with multiple re-takes allowing them to shine (though I worry they’re a studio band, not a live one; against the odds Oasis managed to be both). And yet that’s not as distracting as it sounds because Liam hasn’t been watered down: raw, powerful, sarcastic and gritty, he hasn’t sounded this good since ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ over a decade ago now. Liam sounds a little like he always did, but with a slightly bigger backdrop behind him. I wondered, after a career in Oasis sounding like The Beatles and a post career where Beady Eye sounded not unlike Wings (though more particularly Paul and Linda McCartney’s ‘Ram’ album, polished but sarcastic) and Noel sounding not unlike Lennon’s solo career(drippy and brave in equal measure) what might come next. The answer is Badfinger: ersatz polished Beatles. That’s not the insult it sounds either, as this is Badfinger circa ‘Straight Up’, the period when they’d nailed their old sound and were writing top tunes and lyrics that had a feel all of their own, without their apple recordings falling too far from the Beatles tree either. We know Liam is a fan (he’s been trying to get a documentary about the Apple years, based on the business biography ‘The Longest Cocktail Party In The World’ off the ground for years now) and he sounds pretty good in his new home. One other influence is the ‘Lennon/.Plastic Ono Band’ which clearly inspired many of the ‘going solo’ sneers, though Liam is much kinder to the idea of reunion than his hero (‘It’s not goodbye, so dry your eyes’ is a long way from ‘I don’t believe in Beatles’ – Liam still clearly believes in Oasis and the change in career has been thrust on him when his brother quit, not taken by choice). Then again ‘I’ve All I Need’ was inspired by a quote first seen at Yoko Ono’s house and features multiple George Harrison references, so maybe Liam is after a quite different source of inspiration after all? This set does, after all, have much of the feel of George’s debut ‘All Things Must Pass’: worldly wisdom and personal songs, performed by a simple humble vulnerable narrator trapped in the middle of a big crazy production world where everything sounds epic and crazy. Oh and there are a few digs at his old bands in there too, just as George once did, though sadly there are no gnomes on this album cover, just a short of an oddly normal looking Liam, no make-up, no wild stare, not even a smile, just his normal reclining pose as this is the ‘real him’. There are, of course, endless Beatles references (particularly on that album closer) – oh and an art print of Liam by Klaus Voormann, the ‘discoverer’ of The Beatles back in their Hamburg days of 1960 and the album designer of 1966 fab four peak ‘Revolver’.

These reference s firmly in place, ‘As You Were’ still feels like the ‘real’ Liam, even though everything is a little exaggerated a tiny bit ‘off’. We’ve commented a few times on this site about how the opening track of an album is often the one given the most attention. It’s not that the first song is particularly the strongest, or the fastest, or the lead single – it just has a certain ‘feel’ about it, an adrenalin rush, an overflowing of ideas, lots of hooks to tune your ears into the album without whalloping you with too many big ideas all at once. For better or worse (arguably both) ‘As You Were’ sounds like a whole album of these songs. Every song here could have been an opening track on some other album: mostly slinky pulsating rockers, big on slogans and massive on tunes and full of something ear-catching to grab us by the lapels and make us listen. The good news is that makes ‘As You Were’ a much more interesting album than I was expecting: there’s a real fizz and fire and Liam nails pretty much all his vocals, his old sneer working better than I expected against such slick backgrounds, as if he’s the only ingredient with no additives in a world of syrup. The good news is no song gets left behind: every song gets the maximum treatment, even though some of the songs are very different to each other, with a few quirky low-key performances standing out the most simply by virtue of being the most different, while many songs come with sudden ear-grabbing switches of key, tempo or melody to keep things bubbling over. The bad news is that there’s nothing here that breaks that formula and digs a little deeper. There’s nothing close to ‘Wigwam’, all the songs come in at a compact three or four minute running time and the world won’t change depending if you own this album or not, the way it did the early and indeed the middle period Oasis records.

There are still, though, some fascinating and revealing lyrics which means that for all the extras in the sound and writing, this still feels like more real ‘Liam’ than we’ve had in o0ne go before. We get the ‘surface’ Liam: the mad-fer-it feral urchin still swaggering as if he rules the world yet is still wearing his Manchester working class roots on his big fur coat sleeves, to a point that will satisfy all the Oasis fans who stopped listening past 1996 when the band stopped making these sorts of songs. But we also get the surface level underneath: once Liam began writing songs around the millennium his tracks were often the most emotional and thoughtful of any Oasis or Beady Eye albums. That continues again here: ‘Paper Crown’ is a gorgeous Jam-style ballad about the heartbreak of being alone and worrying about money for the first time, a new landscape where even gold records won’t save you. ‘For What It’s Worth’ admits to being a ‘dreamer’, Liam apologising for everything he got wrong and hoping we don’t hate him. ‘When I’m In Need’ is the ‘Songbird’ of the album, a rare love song from someone who hasn’t had much love in his life lately. ‘Universal Gleam’ is a promise from singer to fans that he’ll try his best not to let them down but admits that he’s ‘older now’ and things don’t come as easy as they once did. Perhaps the most interesting and most substantial new song is ‘Chinatown’, a fascinating stream-of-consciousness number that has Liam talking to his ‘maker’ who instead of ‘making him cry’ as brother Noel did on ‘D’yer Know What I Mean?’ tells him to enjoy his luxury and make the most of every minute of his life when it’s going well and to ‘forget about the beginning and end’. Liam is at the ‘Chinatown’ of his career, pushed to the edges of his personal town where people are in danger of forgetting who he is, but he’s content to make music for the still-steady stream of visitors passing through his gates (a major step forward from the ‘but we should be famous!’ pleas of Beady Eye, sighing at being at the bottom of the bill and starting over again).

The result is an album that’s a lot better than I feared, more consistent than either Beady Eye album (or the last Oasis album come to that). It isn’t perfect: the three weakest (make that the most ‘traditional’) sounding songs are all at the beginning with most of the best saved for last. I would gladly swap all three rather dull opening songs for the typically great and adventurous fare Liam gives us for this album’s B-sides (and included on the album’s digital release – the one to get at the moment as it doesn’t cost much more than the ‘normal’ one. You probably don’t need the ‘super deluxe’ edition with extra crayons so you can colour in the monochrome front cover but, hey, you can if you want. Though most of the front cover is Liam’s thick black eyebrows anyway). You can tell sometimes that this album is written by committee not by Liam and though this record gets more daring as it gets going it’s safe to say there’s nothing that tries to be as bold and as brave as Beady Eye at their best or as nihilistically self-destructively brave as early Oasis. However Liam is forty-five now and this album’s best parts are the times he reminds us of that, when he stops pretending to be a young hungry twenty something. Good as his stomping snarling put-downs are, the best songs here are where he sounds vulnerable, aware that he’s no longer the king of rock and roll but all too often painted as the fading court jester and thankful for any attention that comes his way at all.

The epic backing, matched with Liam’s gritty vocals, works better than it has any right too, especially as Liam seems to have regained some of the voice he was lacking on the twin Beady Eye albums (making the most of overdubbing to get things right, rather than singing live with most takes of the backing tracks, in beady Eye’s ‘three-musketeers-plus-a-drummer’ mode). However it’s no coincidence that the songs that work most - ‘Paper Crown’ ‘I’ve Got All I Need’ and especially the AAA song of the year so far ‘Chinatown’ – tend to be where the ones there isn’t much here at all except Liam himself (he even makes a rare appearance on guitar himself on the latter). The result is an album that might not be a five-star classic (there’s too much repetition and resting on laurels for that) but which is nevertheless a very strong, impressive and consistent record from a talent who despite being the lead singer of one of the UK’s biggest selling bands still somehow gets overlooked far too easily. Liam is far more talented than his public image and critical standing has ever allowed him to become – hopefully the extra fuss that this record is getting after so many years away (with a nation starved of Oasis style rock and roll) will prove to the world that there was more to Oasis than the guitarist songwriter with the shaggy songwriter and that Liam has a lot to say and a lot of talent to say it with. It’s on that score that this album isn’t really as we were at all but that something big is happening at last. For Liam’s sake I hope it does: his songs have been the highlights of the last five ‘band’ LPs he’s worked on now (three Oasis and two Beady Eye) and he deserves his turn in the spotlight, even if it’s one that got thrust on him out of circumstances rather than choice. 

If I’d put money on the unlikely scenario of the first rhyme on Liam Gallagher’s solo album being ‘secrets in yer’ and ‘paraphernalia’ I would be a rich reviewer right now. Opening track and first single ‘Wall Of Glass’ is a real oddball. I can see why it got chosen: it sounds loosely like Oasis (though more like lesser Beady Eye), being confrontational and rhythmical, but also with a singalong melody in there somewhere. Liam is making a state of address to the nation here that modern music sucks, with digs at ‘One Direction’ by name and lots of other bands by association. It’s an apt place to start a solo career, given that it’s effectively a middle-aged man’s update of how Oasis started back in 1994, with Liam the last of the ‘real’ rock and roll stars, desperate to make music meaningful again and blow away the cobwebs of empty pop. Things aren’t the way they were though and the world treats him, as it did all his 1960s and 1970s heroes before him, as an anachronistic dinosaur: annoyed, he snarls that everyone taking pot-shots at him for being a caricature should take a note of how bad and limited their own musical views are, musicians throwing stones in a wall of glass. So far so good – while I wouldn’t seriously have put money on that rhyme I would have got even odds on Liam’s first song being confrontational and chucking a gauntlet at a group of younger kids who aren’t paying attention seems like something obvious too. But this song is decidedly heavy-footed, with a curiously unlovable stomp and an ugly variation of the ‘stompy’ sound Oasis used to do so well. This is the one song on the album where I miss either of Liam’s old bands the most as his backing band just can’t get this messy groove right at all and Liam’s voice is so badly ducked down in the mix. Somebody swallowing a harmonic in stereo is clearly meant to remind us of the glory days of ‘The Masterplan’, but sadly the playing isn’t up to Mark Feltham’s and this isn’t the kind of bluesy song that demands one. It’s the song that’s the most ‘wrong’ though – there isn’t much of a melody and the verses just kinda bleed into the chorus. The result is a song that’s brittle and feels like it’s about to break at any moment – apt given the sentiments, but it would have been better yet if Liam had sneered this with the arrogance and confidence of old, whether anyone’s listening to him or not! The album’s weakest track, so don’t be put off if it’s the only from the album you’ve heard.

‘Bold’ is the album’s second weakest track, a little too close to traditional style Oasis, particularly their moody middle period. Liam could be talking about either his ex wife Nicole or his ex bandmate Noel here as he becomes ‘bold’ and moves on from someone who used to mean so much to him. ‘Yeah so I didn’t do what I was told’ sings Liam, all but adding ‘so shoot me!’, but while the lyrics purr arrogance and egotism the mood is softer, Liam’s subconscious apologising with a sumptuous melody even if he hasn’t got round to putting those thoughts into a lyric yet. Some of these lines end up being ambiguous: ‘You soft soul’ murmurs Liam, but is he being sarcastic or paying tribute? Like his second ever composition ‘Born On A Different Cloud’ (which I’ve always figured was about Noel) this song is praising someone for breaking the rules and being so individual – even if their individual nature often puts them at odds with the narrator and means he struggles to understand them. It’s as if Liam is admiring someone from a distance now he no longer has to put up with so many petty differences in day-to-day life, with absence making the heart grow fonder.  Maybe that’s why this song is genuinely ‘bold’ because by Liam’s standards it is very soft and fluffy, although the effect is negated by the sneer in his voice that pulls and tugs at the genuine warmth of the melody. So far so brilliant, but the musicians again partly mess up a song that should purr and glow rather than fizz the way this song does and the song lacks anything interesting to keep it moving across such a slow tempo (the one style Liam’s never managed to write as well as his brother). A lazy middle eight of ‘lay it on me, yeah!’ is fooling nobody – this song is a ‘proper’ middle eight away from greatness and thus is slightly disappointing, even if the ideas inside it are rather fascinating.

‘Greedy Soul’ sounds like an outtake from lesser Beady Eye second album ‘Be’, a sneer in search of a song that never quite comes together but sounds fun to sing at least. Liam’s out looking for a fight again, snapping off his ‘motormouth’ in a series of tough and rather witty one-liners. It’s good to hear a brief return of the old swagger as Liam tells us ‘I got the Midas touch!’ but what’s heart-warming is that he attacks his rival not for being a pushover or a weakling but for their ‘greedy soul’. Liam sounds as if his rival has attacked someone he loves and feels entitled to let leash all his greatest fury – this might have been a better song if he’d made of that actually. Who is he singing about? Well, it could be Noel (‘You’ve been telling lies, the slippery kind!’ – Liam has always been adamant that the story concocted by his elder brother to end Oasis was an ‘excuse’ to make him look bad and encourage fans to follow Noel’s career when the split happened) and while we try to stay roughly neutral in the many wars of brothers that occur on  the AAA (Dire Straits, Beach Boys and Kinks as well as Oasis – if you can take any words of wisdom from our website then it’s for God’s sake never start a band with your brother if you want a peaceful life!) it is fair to say that Noel has been hanging round with some big stars lately, while Liam has been staying ‘street’, talking to either up-and-coming wannabes or fans rather than celebrities. In which case this song’s pot shots about someone ‘digging for their gold’ really hits home. However this also sounds like Liam, as technically a ‘new’ artist on the scene (at least as a solo act) damning all his younger musical rivals once more, angered at the way he has to do business to have a musical career these days, doing things the ‘wrong way round’ as he has to ‘kiss and tell’ rather than make music he really believes in. This song has some great lines (naturally, us being us, the 196-0s referencing ‘She’s got a spinning head, like the un-Grateful Dead’ is our favourite), but alas not enough of them and even though this song is short with lots of repeats Liam runs of ideas quickly and resorts to swearing, just for the hell of it. Oh and why has he got a ‘rhino heart’? (Especially as most of the rest of this album proves what a big heart Liam’s got – why else would be he so cross about people doing things for the ‘wrong’ reasons?) The melody too doesn’t do much except rat-a-tat in an argumentative but not a very musical way. The rest of the album gets much better.

‘Paper Crown’ for instance is a gorgeous song, a really beautiful acoustic reflective mid-tempo song that’s instantly better than the three rather messy tracks before it by featuring Liam on his own singing in double-tracked harmony to his own acoustic guitar. That’s fitting for a song about being vulnerable and isolated, abandoned by everybody, which is how Liam felt after Beady Eye split up due to disinterest of band and fans and Liam found himself a house-husband in a house with a wife that was leaving, stuck at home cooling his heels, ranting on twitter and doing the odd school-run. Sounding very like the ballads Paul Weller used to write once an album just to show off that The Jam could do more than shouting (it’s very ‘English Rose’ and starts off with a line about a rose), ‘Paper Crown’ is a worthy piece of self-analysis, ‘halfway down the road’ of his career and already surrounded by ghosts of what could have been from his past. Liam finds solace by remembering that his wife isn’t used to being alone either and they’re enjoying a sort of solidarity in separation (or is it Noel again?), afraid of the ‘wolf at the door’ that makes them carry on doing more and more even though they can never do it as well as they once did. Liam may well be singing about the end of Oasis here as he tries to surf the waves of emotions that came with being in such a turbulent band, only to surprise himself when he suddenly finds himself hitting his head on the sore, waiting for the next wave to come and take him somewhere else. A final dig at (surely) Noel is rather unnecessary (referencing Noel’s first album, full of sun imagery, Liam pictures his rival ‘making sure everyone could see his face’ in the sunlight – it’s worth remembering that British tabloid The Sun were particularly keen at printing stories about the Gallagher’s brotherly rift – and stepping on the people he’ll need later in his attempt to climb upwards), but generally this is a strong song. Liam still wears his crown as someone who once mattered with pride, even if he lost his ‘real’ crown long ago and has to put up with a paper one in this day and age everyone laughs at. He knows how hard that crown was to earn and he loves wearing it. The melody on this song is as gorgeous as the words are ugly and while we’re used to hearing both Liam and Noel referencing The Beatles in the lyrics this is one of the few that features Beatley harmonies, which sound gorgeous here.

‘For What It’s Worth’ is another strong song, Liam taking the opposite tack and offering up an apology, either to his brother or (More likely) to his ex. Liam spends the verse sounding like a little boy in trouble, gazing at the floor and coming up with excuses: he’s born like that, he didn’t mean to hurt anybody, ‘my intentions were good’, there’s been a ‘devil on my doorstep since the day I was born’). However you sense that all the person he’s wronged is waiting for is the gorgeous chorus, which stops passing the buck and starts apologising. Liam clearly means it, as a quite beautiful orchestra swell and a classy pop chorus makes it feel like the sun coming out on a rainy day. The first use of an orchestra in years recalls old Oasis A-side ‘Whatever’ and the mood is similarly tragic-comic: do we take this song seriously or not? My guess is yes – at the time – but Liam and his lover both know that this is the kind of man whose going to make all these mistakes again some day soon, that’s just how it is. Nice to hear the apology though and it’s hard not to love his cheek or his enthusiasm as Liam announces that he’s a ‘dreamer’ who can see a day when ‘we can put all this behind us’ and come together again (that line at least is surely for his brother). Liam admits that he’s got a bit lost in the argument and ‘forgotten what I was fighting for’, carrying on simply because that’s his stubborn nature. But he believes in giving peace a chance (odd that line wasn’t here actually!) and that though he lost his way he thinks he’s found it now. A proper classic classy pop song in the grand Oasis tradition, even the backing band really cook on this one.

We now take an acoustic interlude for the very mid-1960s ‘When I’m In Need’. Is Liam in love again? Well, not that I’ve heard, but this song brings out his sweeter gentler romantic side the way ‘Songbird’ once did and lines like ‘I’m counting the days till she’s mine’ rather hint at it, so my guess is yes. Liam has been so down and miserable, but this new girl gives him cause for joy. The pair of them can ‘fly’ in tandem, both of them discovering to their surprise that they don’t have to be lonely and trapped inside their own heads but can share the worlds they keep hidden from everyone. Very John and Yoko, this psychedelic spacey track has the feel of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ about it and even starts off with the word ‘surreal’ in the first line. ‘She’s so Purple Haze’ another line admits, referring to the Jimi Hendrix song, before adding ‘well, you know what I mean!’ There’s another quite brilliant power-pop chorus in this one that’s really mid-1960s Lennon and sounds quite delicious when an entire choir of Liams (no backing singers on this album!) start aahing along in tandem. The song recalls Oasis single ‘She Is Love’, but sounds less forced. A Noel-like guitar from the ‘Be Here Now’ period then props up the middle of this song, toughening it up from a light and pretty song about a fragile love into a powerhouse of strength, of two people who can never be split apart. The long finale features brass, horns, backwards guitar and sound effects galore as Liam’s love builds from the gentle sigh of the opening and its delicious, the one moment of pure undiluted happiness on what’s at heart rather a troubled album. Why this wasn’t the first album single I’ll never know.

‘You Better Run!’ is, so we’re told, most definitively a statement about today’s musicians. IT starts off as just another weak-kneed Oasisy rocker, with a swagger but no heart, more like a drunken man trying to stand upright than a real attempt to take on any rival like the lesser songs from ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ and the first and third tracks of this CD. Suddenly though something changes. This 4/4 ‘common time’ song in the key of C (the simplest) suddenly goes somewhere very weird indeed, reaching out for a new key and switching tempos altogether even though the song’s stomp remains the same. It’s as if Liam is taunting his rivals: ‘Call yourselves musicians? Well let’s see you compete with this!!!’ ‘I’m gonna steal your thunder, so you better run and hide!’ is an opening that seems very at odds with the vulnerability of what we’ve just heard and the entire track sounds like Liam getting his confidence back in the process of making this album as he feels his way back into what he used to do so effortlessly (‘Wake up!’ he tells himself, ‘you’re onto something!’, trying to gee himself up out of his lethargy as much as the world at large, which turned away from rock and roll when Oasis stopped being popular around 1997). His vocal is what makes this song though, a delicious sneer that damns everyone to hell as he pronounced himself the biggest beast in town and that everyone else is a ‘butterfly’. I don’t usually like snarling put-downs but if you need to hear one then this is it, Liam bringing along with him a slinky groove that spits like a panther, another stompy backing track and an entire horn section as part of his posse.

Without a pause for breath, we’re suddenly into the fastest rocker on the album, the cute ‘I’ll Get By’. Liam is back in a bad place, ‘all messed up’ as he tries to get ‘over you!’ This song too could be about the brotherly rift but with its mentions of love and heartbreak sounds much more like a song to wife Nicole. An angry blistering choppy guitar riff makes it clear how desperate Liam is to get on with his life, but also how much fury he still has pulsating through him. As tough as he tries to sound, as macho as he pretends to be, there’s no ‘holding back from the truth’ – that underneath it all Liam has a very fragile heart indeed and it’s just been shattered into a million pieces. What’s more it was broken by someone who seemed so kind, so quiet, so shy, so fragile and yet who seems to be walking out of this relationship unscathed while Liam is desperate, howling in pain, pleading with her over her ne-found power that ‘you’ve got my life in your hands!’ Liam quotes from CSNY as he tells us that ‘only love can break my heart’, but sounds as if his heart is already far past repair as his usual sneer is turned into a desperate wild primal cry that’s truly haunting: ‘Weeeeeell, I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I’ll Geeeeeeet Byyyyy!’ He’s clearly lying to himself whatever he tells us about always telling the truth and blatantly still hurting, so desperate to put his life back on track that he’s ‘scrutinising everything’, haunted by this failure of something that once seemed so perfect. A glorious sudden change to a minor key that knocks us off our feet (‘Never look back, go where you’re going to, I’ve waited a lifetime for you!’) sounds like one last attempt to put things right, to set this song back on its feet, but Liam’s too late, the song instead ending unexpectedly in a painful howl of chords (that could have been better still for being a bit rawer, actually), this grand fairytale abandoned partway through. The best rocker on an album where otherwise the ballads come off best, this is brilliantly played by a cooking band and once again Liam’s the star in the room, everything revolving around his tough-as-nails, fragile-as-snails vocal. However it’s a shame the middle eight riff so strongly resembles Small Faces classic ‘Call It Something Nice’ (you may as well rip off the best if you’re going to do that sort of thing I suppose!)

Better yet is album highlight ‘Chinatown’, a fascinating stream-of-consciousness matched to a pretty tune that sounds unlike anything else Liam has ever done before. My take on this weird song full of one-liners and metaphors is that it’s Liam finally coming to terms with Oasis’ bumpy ride and that it’s now over. Back in 1994-1996 Oasis wanted to rule the world –n once they got the keys to it in 1997 they decided that actually that much power made them unhappy; every year after that was about trying to work out how to reconcile the two extremes of their songs, both optimistic about a brilliant future and away that selling it to their fans is a myth. Here, though, Liam is at a comfortable place in his career and with fame: people respect him rather than worship him, people like him rather than love him and a manageable amount of people listen to him rather than billions of people greeting him as the Messiah. Walking out round town Liam seems struck that he’s now in the ‘Chinatown’ of his career, pushed to the fringes of a world he used to ‘own’ (most big city’s ‘Chinatown’ district is on the edge of a map), popular enough but at a more manageable level that will let him do what he wants without so much expectation, selling enough copies to live off but not enough to set new sales records like the days of old. The singer also talks about his old neurosis and how they’ve cleared up now, enjoying the luxury of nobody knowing who he is. Liam hasn’t sounded this comfortable in his own skin for a long long time and this delightful ramble, in both senses of the word, is cute. His hilarious summaries of modern-day living, sung with more hu7mour than the venom of the rest of the album, are genuinely clever too: ‘The cops are taking over while everyone else does yoga’ may well be the best AAA couplet of the year so far, the old anger and passion Liam used to carry around with him no longer needed in a world where everyone is trying to be blessed out and mellow. Liam even has Oasis’ second ever conversation with their maker, recalling the line from ‘D’Yer Know What I Mean?’ where ‘I met my maker and made him cry’ – this time God tells Liam to simply enjoy the moment and the make the most of life in the present, ‘don’t worry about the beginning or end’. A gorgeous production adds a nicely psychedelic edge to this song, with lots of spooky echo and lots of overdubs to make a noise ‘definitely Maybe’ style, but this song never forgets that it’s meant to be a quiet, spiritual track. Liam’s vocal and his own acoustic guitar picking remain central to this song, the ‘root’ from which every other branch of this tree grows. Quite brilliant and the best song any of Oasis have written since ‘Wigwam’, though why this un-commercial number only really major fans like me will ‘get’ rather than any of the eleven over commercial songs on this album (fourteen on the deluxe edition) is a mystery. Listen out for the obscure Beatles reference to ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ at the start, along with the line that ‘telephone doses eliminate neurosis’ – is Liam having a long distance love affair?

‘Come Back To Me’ is another turbulent song surely written in the messy wake of Liam’s divorce, but again perhaps written about the rivalry with Noel. An angry spitting rant, this is Liam sounding desperate as he uses his sneer of old in a new setting, sounding desperate and wild, out of control rather than his usual tense stare. Liam feels he’s ‘gone far’ with his post-Oasis career, ‘my head held high’, but it’s not enough: he wants to be back in Oasis, to do what he feels he was put on this earth to do. It’s not fair: ‘Everyone out there’ praises Noel for his solo records and blaming Liam for splitting the band in the first place, both of which Liam argues against. He doesn’t want another row though: he just wants his band back! Liam thinks this public spat is stupid: he knows his brother and ‘I want to touch you, because I know that you’re lonely!’ Ever since the 2009 split it’s been Liam trying to put the band back together – he’s said in interviews that however well his records do he would reunite in Oasis in a heartbeat for ‘50p’, he never wanted to lose the band in the first place. Liam is ‘tired of myself’ and admits that he ‘still cares’ for his brother, however much he enjoys slagging him off in public. He wants his brother back, he knows his brother secretly wants to come back, so what’s the problem? ‘Please’ Liam purrs, ‘won’t you come back to me?’ The first version of this song was, apparently, very Lennony and used lots of mellotrons sounding like ‘I Am The Walrus’. Figuring the album already had its fair share of psychedelic ballads, Liam reworked this into a bare-bones rocker; the right call I would say, especially with another quite brilliant Liam lead vocal, this time double-tracked. The other of this album’s best rockers.

‘Universal Gleam’ starts off like ‘Go Let It Out’ before turning somewhere softer as Liam has an ‘epiphany while waiting so patiently’. Liam doesn’t need the crowds or adulation he once needed – all he needs is one fan to sing to, one person to get excited in his music and that will do, promising like one of the last Oasis B-sides that ‘I’ll never let you down’. He knows the power of music, of the connection between band and fan and he promises to offer ‘universal gleam’, to let his fans feel less lonely, afraid and misunderstood – whole making them feel better about the future. However things have changed from the old days: he can still ‘spit things out from my motormouth’ but he’s older, wiser. He knows he can never have the hunger and drive of his younger days when failing meant starvation and going back on the dole, rather than disappointment and a few half-full gigs. Another quite beautiful tune is quite beautiful and lovely, Liam pushed so far by his own emotional that he ends up singing in a  delightful falsetto as he makes his promise (oddly sounding not unlike Noel in the process), before heading into some cathartic ‘ahhhhs’ in the chorus. The production is another first for Liam, as the upbeat mood of the song unusually but inevitably leads him to the warm arms of gospel. This isn’t the stupid idea it sounds on paper: Liam is good at using his usual sneer for warmth on this track and a backing choir of Liams sound rather good as he ‘brings you love and light’, while a clap-happy backing and some excellent use of strings and brass really turn this one into a singalong epic.

The album then rounds off with ‘All I Need’, a song that sums up the prettier, gentler side of this record with a new-found mellow flavour as Liam counts his blessing. Addressing what might be his only fan, he announces ‘if you’re all I have then please be true’. This slow and rather boring opening then turns into another slow-burning epic as the song gets bigger and more upbeat. Oasis seem to be over, leading Liam to quote lots of Beatley lyrics from ‘All Things Must Pass’ to ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ (though oddly not ‘Let It Be’ or ‘The Long and Winding Road’, the songs this track most resembles in thought and tone). ‘There’s no time for looking back’ Liam sings, before he stops himself: out of endings come beginnings and he’s found a new way of presenting his voice to the public. Where Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all sounded relieved to have ended The Beatles and were dismissive of their past, Liam is proud of what he did but hopeful about what he can do next. Rather than Lennon’s curt dismissals of Oasis, Liam relishes the idea of building on what he did before, telling his audience that he feels like he used to again and that ‘it’s not goodbye, so dry your eyes!’ It’s a very emotional moment for any fan whose ever gone any part of the journey with him and Liam breaking the fourth-wall to talk to ‘us’ directly (‘Thankyou for all your support!’) is a sweet touch unlike anything Oasis have ever done before. This is a band who were always close to their fanbase at the beginning but ended up rather distant – that was the problem, really, with their later albums which were written from the point of view of rockstar millionaires not wannabe kids struggling to make their mark on the world (that’s what Beady Eye did so well by returning to that sound and thought, though Liam does it better on his own here). The idea of ‘gathering your Wings’, which so many fans have taken to be a McCartney reference, was actually inspired by a trip Liam took to visit Yoko at the Dakota in New York during the early Oasis days. Asking what a Japanese wall mural said, Yoko giggled and replied that John had asked exactly the same when visiting her parents for the first time: it reads ‘hibernate and sing, whole gathering your wings’. Oddly it didn’t make it into a Lennon song, but Liam was keen to use it in something and kept it running round the back of his head for twenty years or so before realising this song of rest and comeback was perfect. Alas the result isn’t quite the epic closer it could have been and ends rather oddly, like much of this album it has to be said. Personally I’d have switched it round with the last track but it’s still a strong song.

Overall, then, ‘As You Were’ is clearly nothing of the sort. Well, maybe the opening three songs which go where Liam’s always gone but not quite as well – odd that the three weakest tracks should all be at the beginning, but that’s record company politics and worry about demographics for you. If you carry on listening you can hear how quickly and how well Liam has adapted to this new situation in his life, finding new outlets for the restless energy and anger that being forced into this situation by the split of the ‘family business’ leads to and also finding new ways to move on and be thankful for what he has. Liam seems to have made this album for himself as much as anybody, using the lyrics to vent his unresolved feelings about the end of two bands and two marriages, while stretching himself creatively and going into new avenues he would never have been able to do with Oasis (maybe Beady Eye a little). Thankfully and against the odds the record label conglomerate he signed with seem to have done everything the right way – allowing him room to breathe and be himself, placing him with oddly sensitive collaborators (only on a few clumsy middle eights does this album not sound like 100% Liam; he himself admits he gets bored and needs a band to ‘finish them off’) and giving him a big budget push that was the only thing (in my eyes) that prevented Beady Eye from being ginormous. The result is an impressive and likeable debut, one that takes a new sound of epic proportions but never forgets the raw power of that voice and the real deal emotions in these songs in the process. The AAA album of the year so far (with only Noel’s rival disc still to be released, as far as I know – Neil Young has probably planned another seven!), ‘As You Were’ is an impressive release from an under-rated talent that rocks with the days of old but doesn’t pretend to be still young with lessons unlearnt.

Plus, from the deluxe edition:

Non-Album Recordings Part #17: Liam and Noel Gallagher
You can always tell how good a project is by how good the extras were – whether songs were within a fraction of making the album proper or were hidden away on B-sides and as ‘extra tracks’ because they make the writers a quick buck on the side. Oasis were always expert at these little extras and it’s good to see both Liam and Noel continuing the grand tradition, with three additional songs included on the ‘deluxe’ version of ‘As You Were’ that could all have made the CD proper. [  ] ‘Doesn’t Have To Be That Way’ is the best of the trio, with a nifty slinky riff and a chorus that goes from threatening to uplifting, as Liam’s raw vocal gets treated with all sorts of sound effects. The closest any of Oasis ever came to House music (at least since their Stones Roses origins in 1993), this song takwes the claustrophobic relentless beat and adds in some paranoid lyrics. Liam seems to be addressing this song to some significant other (like much of the parent album it could be about both brother and ex-lover), Liam pouring scorn on the idea that they’ve left something perfect to go ‘chasing rainbows’. Liam spends most of the album feeling sorry for the break-up, but he’s at his cackling best here as he boasts that he’s an ‘ace racer’ who can beat them in a straight fight anyway (ok, so this does look more like Noel doesn’t it?...), but that he doesn’t want to fight – that it doesn’t ‘have to be that way’. Liam calls himself a ‘dark star’, referencing George Harrison’s ‘Dark Horse’ as he calls himself the brother that nobody really reckoned on, laughing at his public image as ‘something the cat dragged in’, keeping it real compared to his p.r. perfect brother. ‘The dogs are barking’ Liam laughs, in reference to the critics snapping at his heels, ‘but they haven’t bitten me yet!’ The best part of the song comes at the end when Liam stops sneering and starts sighing and asks Noel outright why he’s doing this to himself. ‘I don’t know how you stand the pain, hoping things will never change’ Liam cackles, stabbing Noel in the back at the same time he offers him an olive branch of reconciliation. Great stuff! Find it on: the deluxe edition of ‘As You Were’ (2017)
[  ] ‘All My People-All Mankind’ recalls ‘Soldier On’, the last song on the last Oasis album, which is rather fitting for the context. Liam tells his brother that, after a difficult decade full of Liam-bashing, this is ‘my time’ and he’s going to both revitalise his career and be there for his brother when he’s the ‘star’ and Noel is forgotten. Full of a ‘Revolver’ period Beatles sneer, there are several in-jokes here, from the ‘fat cats who look pretty green’ (Liam keeping those who believed in his ‘Prety Green’ business fat out of loyalty) and the chorus where ‘all true seekers sheee-iiiine’, referencing the loyal fans who fell for Oasis ever since hearing Liam mangle that very word on ‘Rock and Roll Star’ twenty-three years earlier. Liam urges his brother to ‘get on up’ so he isn’t too embarrassed as he gets ‘left behind’, but at the same is having fun, mocking the modern age of celebrity culture for doing nothing (‘Selfies, what a fucking disease!’ is his comment on the developments of the past ten years). More ambiguous and therefore less immediate than most of the parent album, this is still pretty good for an extra. Find it on: the deluxe edition of ‘As You Were’ (2017)
Liam ends with one last playful dig at his brother on [  ] ‘Never Wanna Be Like You’. ‘C’mon, c’mon’ the song starts, ‘Twist and Shout’ style, as if spoiling for a fight. However Liam’s merely playing around with words, using ‘I Am The Walrus’ silly sneering as his next template as he adds ‘good lad, scumbag, goo ga joob!’ A playful nursery rhyme number, full of silly verses linked by a darker chorus that again seems maliciously pointed against Noel (‘if the fan boys only knew what I’d uncovered they’d be swerving you!’), it sounds very much like the ‘Ram’ style of protest against the other Beatles, which Beady Eye had already mined on ‘Three Ring Circus/Three Legs’. Here, though, Liam is more vague: he needs his brother, he even likes his brother (sometimes), but he could never act the way his brother does, touting celebrity and taking the high road over something Liam still blames him for. Threatening yet playful, dark yet silly, this is a fun ‘extra’ that may well be the most revealing song from the whole sessions. Find it on: the deluxe edition of ‘As You Were’ (2017)

 Other Oasis-related articles from this site you might be interested in reading: 

'(What's The Story?) Morning Glory' (1995) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/oasis-whats-story-morning-glory-1996.html
'Be Here Now' (1997) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/11/oasis-be-here-now-1997-album-review.html
‘Heathen Chemistry’ (2002) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/oasis-heathen-chemistry-2002.html

‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ (2005) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/oasis-dont-believe-truth-2005.html

'Dig Out Your Soul' (2008) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/oasis-dig-out-your-soul-2008-heavily.html

'Different Gear, Still Speeding' (Beady Eye) (2011)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/news-views-and-music-issue-93-beady-eye.html

'Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' (2011)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/news-views-and-music-issue-119-noel.html  
'Chasing Yesterdays' (Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds) (2015) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/noel-gallaghers-high-flying-birds.html
The Best Unreleased Oasis Recordings 1992-2013 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/oasis-best-unreleased-recordings-1992.html
Surviving TV Clips 1994-2009: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/oasis-surviving-tv-clips-1994-2009.html
Compilation/Live/Solo Albums: 1994-2010 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/oasis-compilationliveb-sides-albums.html
Non-Album Songs Part One: 1993-1998 
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/oasis-non-album-recordings-part-one.html

Non-Album Songs Part Two: 2000-2015
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.nl/2016/08/oasis-non-album-songs-part-two-2000-2015.html






No comments:

Post a Comment