It seems strange to say it about a man whose whole career has been based on an unwavering belief in his own persona as one of the last true rock stars, but 2017 sees Liam Gallagher in the rather unusual position of underdog. After Beady Eye came to an abrupt halt with a collective shrug after the release of final album BE, Liam has found himself musically cut adrift. With the chances of Oasis getting back together anytime soon, further diminishing with every new solo album from Noel, questions were beginning to be asked about whether Liam really had the appetite to strike out on his own without the ballast of a band behind him. What’s more, for a singer who went from fiery young punk to surefooted journeyman pro all with the help of others, would he be able to write the songs that would make people take Liam seriously as a songwriter?
These questions are ones that have troubled Liam, admitting in interviews that he would much prefer to be releasing a new album with Oasis rather than launching a solo career. Similarly, he has also confessed to having difficulties writing those big, life-affirming, era-defining choruses that brother Noel could knock out for fun in the mid-‘90s. Wisely, with this realisation he has teamed up with someone who knows a thing or two about penning a hit song having written and produced for Adele, Sia, Kelly Clarkson and most recently the Foo Fighters—Greg Kurstin. It has proven to be a shrewd move as the younger Gallagher’s first solo album is a confident, well-rounded rock ‘n’ roll record that finds Liam possessing a new found fire in his belly.
Opening single “Wall of Glass” had to come out all guns blazing. For his solo career not to be railroaded before it had begun, it had to show, even to his most ardent of supporters, that he still had the voice and the attitude that made him one of the most unpredictable frontmen of his generation. Additionally, it had to have the shock and the thrill of the new. Strangely enough, that comes in the form of a harmonica riff. In featuring a hook based on the humble harmonica, the song roars and wails from the off, in much the same way as Liam’s voice demanded attention on those early Oasis records. The harmonica riff, simple chords, and soulful backing singers frame what has to stand as one of the best lead singles from any band either Gallagher has been involved in since What’s the Story (Morning Glory).
It soon becomes apparent, that this is a surprisingly compelling and convincing set of uncomplicated yet frank rock ‘n’ roll songs written to show off Liam’s strengths as a singer. “Bold” is a mid-tempo, acoustic-driven rocker that sees him joined by former Oasis guitarist Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs. The chorus line of “Yes I know, I’ve been Bold / I didn’t do what I was told,” perfectly summarizes Gallagher’s often rash and impetuous nature but hints at a newfound penitence. “Greedy Soul” is a swaggering rocker with over-driven guitar and pounding drums with the raw intent of early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Liam’s vocals strut with self-assurance, as he revels in being the only thing he knows how to be—a rock star.
“Paper Crown” is a more reflective number which finds Liam in fine voice, channeling early ‘70s solo John Lennon. “For What It’s Worth”, co-written with Cherry Ghost’s Simon Aldred, is the kind of soaring mid-tempo rocker that Oasis tried to get right on every release since What’s the Story (Morning Glory). Possessing a similar structure to “Don’t Look Back in Anger” it soars rather than feeling like a well-worn copy as Liam’s voice shines brighter than on anything since the demise of Oasis. It also finds him in a surprisingly vulnerable and contrite mood with lyrics such as, “For what it’s worth / I’m sorry for the hurt / I’ll be the first to say / I made my own mistakes.” It’s these more unguarded moments that make the album feel far more rounded as a result.
On the whole, there is much more substance to Gallagher’s lyrics that one might expect. Admittedly, there are still some clunkers such as on the sweet, acoustic “When I’m in Need” with the nonsensical, “She’s so purple haze / You know what I mean.” Similarly, the energising, glam stomp of “You Better Run” is marred a little by the lazy couplet “Hey there gimme shelter / Tt’s all gone helter skelter.” Still, one has to admire any song so brazen that it opens with “Hey there / I’m a livin’ wonder.” Often, the fun comes in trying to decide who exactly is the subject of Liam’s ire. To that end, it’s probably pretty safe to assume that the line, “I never hold back from the truth / Unlike you.” from cocksure rocker “I Get By” is aimed at brother Noel.
“Chinatown” written with Andrew Wyatt from Swedish electro band Miike Snow and featuring John Martyn style figure picking from former Jeff Buckley guitarist Michael Oliver Tighe is an understated gem. Once again it finds Liam in superb voice whilst similarly demonstrating how shrewd he has been in choosing his writing partners. Throughout the album, the writing and production have coaxed the best performances out of him in years on the more stretching soulful numbers but without blunting any of the rough diamond, sneer on the rockers.
Overall, As You Were sees Liam Gallagher far surpassing even the most hopeful of expectations. Gone is the moodiness and sonic flourishes that characterised final Beady Eye album BE. Instead, Liam has opted for a far more straightforward, audience-pleasing rock ‘n’ roll record but with plenty to make it sound fresh and alive. An album that sees every question about him answered, screwed up and tossed in the bin.
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