“This one’s Rock N’ Roll but flying out in space. If you’re into drugs, you’ll like it.”
—Liam Gallagher on BE, 2013
Liam Gallagher talks a good game. It’s one of his strengths. So let’s be equally upfront, Gallagher Junior’s first post-Oasis effort Different Gear, Still Speeding was a modest success at best. Songs like “Bring the Light” and “Beatles & Stones” rattled their nouveau riche jewelry with admirably youthful aplomb but little stuck to the soul long-term. But hey it was “Dad’s fucked off, let’s trash the joint!” FUN if nothing else. Alas, if only it delved deeper into the cosmic lunacy that surely lies at the epicentre of Liam Gallagher’s brain. He must’ve been kicking off his nappy though as Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds re-enacted a ‘turtle and the hare’ scenario scooping off with the glory n’ gold whilst he had to sulk n’ stew on the lowly “Other Stage” playing his No34 smash with the blokes from Hurricane #1 and Heavy Stereo. By the time Beady Eye appeared at the Olympics’ Closing ceremony last summer singing – to much amusement – Oasis’ towering “Wonderwall”, the Gallagher’s Prince / Pauper crossover was complete. There was no one left but for Prince Gallagher Sr to let out a maniacal laugh and raise a flute of Moët to “Stratford’s finest Oasis tribute band”...
Being dragged unceremoniously to the cheap seats should’ve reignited a fire in young Gallagher’s belly, reawakened his Sex Pistol’s snarl from Definitely, Maybe and brought him back with both barrels blazin’. The announcement that Dave Sitek – a proper ‘arty’ bloke with specs and everything – would be coming in to lick ‘em into shape for the rematch was a potential game-changer. The TV on the Radio producer of Yeah Yeah Yeahs wouldn’t settle for any bootleg Beatles’ “Will this do?” lazyitis! Well the opening minutes of BE are Bloomin’ Exciting. The “Universal gleam” of “Flick of the Finger” rolls like the avenging army coming over the hill ready to settle scores. A richer, deeper sound shakes with ominous marching, tower of power horns and the sound of the earth rumbling underfoot. “The sands are shifting and there’s nowhere to land.. .the future gets written today” threatens Gallagher like a dead-eyed Warlock seeking retribution. The battle scarr’d align on the horizon before a heavy, disembodied voice warns us they’ll “Tear a million of you to pieces”. Basically “Shit’s about to go down.” Fookin’ ‘ell our kid this sounds…good.
Tragically this is followed by “Soul Love”. The start of much plodding, middling navel-gazing which completely deflates all of the simmering melodrama triggered by “Flick of the Finger”. Five minutes of spiralling acoustics and nodding dog sleepiness as exciting as watching the water drain slowly from the bathtub. As throughout BE Liam speaks of love and devotion – All “Everything I do is all for you”, “You can be everything you want to be” cliché—but his voice is laced with bitterness and sarcasm. A grim raincloud of a tune which slides away with ninety seconds of floaty ambience. This is track two. After such an unwelcome miasma of bad vibes, BE’s health never really recovers.
Whereas Different Gear carried a kind of shaggy, “Ah ya wee scamps!” charm too much of BE proves familiar, tired, frustratingly charmless. “Face the Crowd” sounds like the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “That Girl Suicide” in a flimsy jokeshop disguise and was likely intended to roar like a kaleidoscopic romp through Carnaby Street 1968 but proves agonisingly annoying. A repetitive three-note riff vexes like a car alarm whilst Gallagher, adopting his most whiny teenager tone, barks surreal orders to this minions, “Smash the mirror / Turn the tempo upside down!” Elsewhere Slade’s “Cum on Feel the Noize” gets yet another run o’ the Gallagher yard on “I’m Just Saying” and features some toe-curling, call n’ response cheesiness whilst the dull “Shine a Light” offers a Kaftan n’ teepee mockery of U2’s “Desire” right down to its Bo Diddley beat. Although this version comes replete with wafer thin chorus and one of BE‘s numerous “Come on!” declarations, “Come on shine a light!” U2 must be popular ‘Chez Gallagher’ this month as Dublin’s finest’s “Dirty Day” is ‘homaged’ in the swaggerin’ “Second Bite of the Apple” which proves much more successful and is one of the album’s highlights. Bouncy, vibrant, playful barbs as LG tickles’ his feet “With the NME” before a horn-elevated chorus not dissimilar to Primal Scream’s “Loaded” brighten’s BE‘s grey skies briefly with a ray of genuine sunshine. “I phone my love just to hear her smile,” beams Gallagher with refreshing sincerity. Although it does carry a default “Come on!” refrain, this time it’s “Come on show what you love!”
Sadly Dave Sitek’s involvement seems to be to occasionally drop some floaty ambience, rewound sound or echo very quietly in the background. There’s no great change to Gallagher’s manifesto. “Iz Rite” still rolls in on “Tomorrow Never Knows” drums and “Oh Yoko”-esque “Me-and-you-kid”, lov’d up lyrics like “When you call my name / It takes away my pain / ‘Til only love remains.” The waltzin’ acoustics of “Ballroom Figured” shoot for intimate and vulnerable but drag, tuneless, exhausted, the cupboard stripped bare. “Did you ever know me at all?” quips Gallagher with some irony. Surely the baiting “Don’t Brother Me” - the “How Do You Sleep?” moment - will ignite some pugilistic smacktalk and offer a intriguing insight into one of pop’s most vitriolic voices? No and it ain’t no whistler either. Generic acoustic shuffle, a chop o’ “Norwegian Wood” and Liam carefully covering all bases from “Always in the sun / With your number one” to bizarrely—here’s “Come on!” again!—“Come on now / Give peace a chance / Take my hand / Be a man” before a three-minute (!) outro where Sitek gets to unbox his new Bontempi (“Ooh, “Lunar Rain!”) quietly in the background.
BE starts with a bang but ends with a whimper. It’s hard not to hear the fragile “Start Anew” and sense a timid, choirboy echo of Oasis’ “All Around the World”. But so gingerly performed that when Liam whispers “We’ve got the whole world in our hands” it’s as if he’s just put the kids to bed. Hey here’s the “Come On” chorus, “Come on take my hand! Start Anew.” When he delicately releases the climactic “Yeah, yeah, yeah” it’s like the Warrior who once boomed “YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!” has been, well, castrated. The song itself is pleasant, albeit undercook’d, but where for art thou sun-sheeee-yiiiiiiine?
When Liam suggested those with a penchant for drugs would enjoy BE one suspects he might’ve meant psychiatric drugs. Gallagher may’ve long since disowned Beady Eye’s so-so début as “Fucking stupid” but at least it was fun. BE is too often clunky n’ hollow and surprisingly downbeat n’ dog-tired. Getting Dr. Sitek on board should’ve been a masterstroke but they’ve seemingly misread “Psychedelic n’ experimental!” as “Add a flute!” Liam Gallagher can be a charismatic, mesmerising presence, but he’s in danger of becoming the fool on the hill. If only he knew someone who could write him a decent tune.
// Notes from the Road
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