Liam Gallagher: As You Were review – motormouth meets the Beatles, again

The younger Gallagher now has better ballads than Noel – but his lyrics will have you beating your head against a table

The relative commercial failure of Liam Gallagher’s post-Oasis band Beady Eye counts as one of the more perplexing events in recent pop history. To an impartial observer, their two albums seemed neither better nor worse than Oasis’s multi-platinum latter-day efforts. It was surprising that a fanbase who once seemed perhaps the most devoted and undiscriminating around – people who dutifully trooped out in their millions to buy albums as mediocre as Heathen Chemistry, people who sent a track as slender as Songbird to the upper reaches of the singles chart – suddenly became so capricious, so seemingly discerning in their pursuit of Beatles/Slade-influenced bloke-rock. But they deserted in their droves: comparing Beady Eye’s sales figures to those of even the least successful Oasis album, 90% of them jumped ship. Why? Was it loyalty to Noel? Or does some kind of super-sense lurk beneath their feather-cuts that enables them to discern a qualitative difference between the contents of the Beady Eye album Different Gear, Still Speeding and all the forgettable old toot Oasis peddled in the noughties?

Whatever the reason, it has left the younger Gallagher in a strange position: working, at his new record label’s behest, with pop songwriters for hire – most notably Greg Kurstin, of Adele, Sia and Ellie Goulding fame – and openly referring to his debut solo album as “my last chance”. If the pro songwriters occasionally just turn out machine-tooled takes on the aforementioned old toot that became Oasis’s main commodity in their later years, elsewhere the decision to employ them pays dividends in punchy, sharp production touches – the sampled guitar screech that powers the great single Wall of Glass; ominous We Love You-esque piano at the end of Come Back to Me – and some dexterous melodic twists and turns. An otherwise nondescript two-chord trudge called I Get By is unexpectedly rescued by a middle eight that achieves a dizzying vertical take-off.

For What It’s Worth and Paper Crown, meanwhile, are fantastic: conspicuously better ballads than Gallagher Snr has come up with in 20 years, although it’s perhaps worth noting that their degree of craftsman’s polish means they don’t recall Oasis so much as the stadium air-punchers Guy Chambers and Robbie Williams wrote under Oasis’s influence. Chinatown is based around a lovely acoustic guitar figure, but is hobbled by lyrics so awful they can only be listened to safely with a pillow in front of you, thus avoiding injury when the urge to beat your head against the table becomes overwhelming. It sounds like a parody of one of those portentous Noel’s-been-having-a-think ballads that stank up Oasis’s late albums, and furthermore seems to favour us with Liam’s indispensable thoughts on Brexit: “What’s it to be free, man? What’s a European? Me, I just believe in the sun.”

Keeping to the Oasis template … Liam Gallagher.
‘What’s it to be free, man? What’s a European?’ … Liam Gallagher. Photograph: Frank Hoensch/Redferns

In truth, the lyrics are a problem throughout – although in fairness, at this stage, anyone buying an Oasis-related product in the hope of hearing decent lyrics is optimistic to the point of insanity. At their best, they aim for Shaun Ryder-y gibberish and occasionally hit their target – “You would keep the secrets in yer / You’ve been keeping paraphernalia” – or throw out put-downs that sometimes stick: “You made fun of everyone that falls, but in the meantime they were saving you a place.” At their worst, they persist in the wearying old habit of cramming clunking Beatles references in at every conceivable turn – “Happiness is still a warm gun”, “Look for the girl” – which rather serves to underline that there’s nothing new here, nothing to suggest that there has been any broadening of Gallagher’s musical horizons in the last 25 years.

This is an album on which a track that sounds like the Hollies rather than the usual gallery of 60s and 70s suspects counts as a bold step into the unknown. You listen to him on the concluding I’ve All I Need, singing “Slow down, all things must pass, take your time, know the score, tomorrow never knows” and think: never mind the rest of us mate, are you not getting a bit bored of this stuff by now?

In fact, I’ve All I Need – written by Gallagher alone – has a certain elegiac quality, as if its author assumes it’s going to be the last his audience hear of him for the foreseeable: “Dry your eyes … thanks for your support.” That seems a bit premature: if As You Were is not an unalloyed triumph, then nor is it the stuff of career-ending disaster. Its failings are the failings you could level at pretty much every Oasis album, its sprinkling of highlights an improvement on most of their output since the mid-90s. Perhaps that’s enough to win back the fans who jumped ship.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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