by Colin Lomas
Love him or loathe him, you certainly can’t ignore him. The F-bombing, mop-topped, Lennon obsessed, Mancunian swagger-junkie is back. Liam Gallagher’s first proper outing as a solo artist, As You Were – his typical Twitter sign-off – is the perfect axiom for his wish to return to the heady heights of Knebworth.
His recent schizophrenic twittering has been noteworthy, if not especially coherent; calling brother Noel a ‘Stalker Potato’, then accusing him of crocodile tears at the Manchester Arena benefit concert (the latter attributed to a hacker – those damn North Koreans eh?) before predicting an Oasis, Stone Roses, Verve super-festival in 2018. Mr Potato has stayed quiet on that last one.
While Gallagher Snr (sorry, not you Paul) has seamlessly slipped from band to solo career without a blip in the arena ticket sales, Liam’s post-Oasis journey has made for a surprisingly – for Liam at least – rougher ride. During a pre-gig interview with newly formed Beady Eye in 2011, he insouciantly cited that playing small values (East London’s 850 capacity Troxy in this instance) was perfectly suited to get them ready for the arenas; pre-season friendlies if you would. We all know how that turned out. Beady Eye’s first album Different Gear, Still Speeding came and went with a collective post-Dig Out Your Soul sigh before the second – 2013’s BE – barely surfaced above the vastly diminished hype.
With a recent messy divorce, a severe reduction in the coffers (see point 1) and the usual tabloid nonsense, even the self-confidence and arrogance of the Liam Gallagher ego must have realised As You Were had a massive point to prove. But from the first seconds of opener ‘Wall of Glass’, you certainly wouldn’t guess so, with Liam instantly back to his growling best. The days of pushing his voice to the limits – ‘Listen Up’, ‘Rock n Roll Star’, ‘Slide Away’ – are admittedly long gone, but the strut has emphatically returned. ‘Wall of Glass’ and ‘Greedy Soul’ highlight the old Liam vocal saunter, even if the former has locked horns with a High Flying Bird with its overdriven fuzz solos and punchy structure.
Even the predicable post-Beatles tracks with annoying Lennon vocal reverb such as ‘Bold’ and ‘Paper Chain’ sparkle with excellent arrangements and big choruses. ‘For What It’s Worth’ drops gear a little with a strings-by-numbers ‘All Around the World’ outro, and the dull ‘When I’m in Need’ is the only serious blip on the album. ‘You Better Run’ picks the pace back up again but the production and female backing vocals feel too designed for Jools Holland for the self-professed king of rock n roll. ‘Come Back to Me’ sounds like the Mamas and Papas haunted by a John Lennon vocal processing unit, while the wonderful ‘Universal Gleam’, the standout track of the album, features a chugging riff reminiscent of ‘Supersonic’ b-side ‘Take Me Away’.
Unsurprisingly the lyrics are of Stage One Phonics level – “You’re getting told, You greedy soul, You’ve been telling lies, The slippery kind” (‘Greedy Soul’) – ‘Yes I know, I’ve been bold, I didn’t do what I was told, Yes I know’ (‘Bold’) – but you don’t buy Gallagher if you’re after William Blake aphorisms.
The key negative here however is that it doesn’t seem like Liam wrote much of the album himself. Bringing on board a series of writers for As You Were – Adele producer and childhood Jazz pianist Greg Kurstin for example – obviously reaped rewards insomuch as creating a fine album, but the ideals of that rock n roll ethos, preached with such verve over his 25-year career, have been sorely breached. Given Liam’s major contribution to the album were also its lowest ebb – lyrics – then it’s difficult to see him justifying himself on a higher circle of hell than a Home and Away teen star on the end of a Waterman, Aitken or Stock puppeteer’s string. The up-beat ‘I Get By’, Roxette keyboard-led ‘Chinatown’ and album closer ‘I’ve All I Need’, while all fine songs, feel nothing like tracks that would explode out of the Gallagher cannon, and reek of professional collaboration.
The success of As You Were might give Liam Gallagher second thoughts about an imminent Oasis reformation, and will no doubt increase that swagger, let alone restock the Twitter munitions. One thing for sure is that it is damn fine thing to hear Gallagher Jnr’s voice tearing through some decent material once again, Adele associations or not.
As You Were is out now via Warner Bros.