Monday, 30 September 2019
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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!