Even before Oasis broke apart in 2009, it was easy to pinpoint the musical differences between the two Gallagher brothers. Ever since he collaborated with the Chemical Brothers on Dig Your Own Hole and contributed the track “Teotihuacan” to the soundtrack for the 1998 X-Files film, it’s been evident that older brother Noel has been interested in the more electronic and psychedelic side of Britpop. Younger brother Liam, who started contributing songs to Oasis in 2000, was more comfortable with the meat-and-potatoes approach and was always on the lookout for any Sex Pistols comparisons that could help bolster his tough-guy persona.
After Oasis fell apart, Liam Gallagher formed Beady Eye, a band to carry on his mission of tough-love Britpop. He even sang that he was “Gonna stand the test of time / Like Beatles and Stones.” Beady Eye’s second album began to stray into psychedelic territory, and one has to wonder if Gallagher was entirely comfortable with the idea considering he dissolved the band the following year. His solo albums As You Were and Why Me? Why Not did the job of keeping Liam Gallagher’s name out there but didn’t find him taking great musical strides. Most of those songs could have been pulled from the late Oasis/early Beady Eye era, and for all I know, maybe they were. With the arrival of C’mon You Know, has Gallagher eventually turned the page to make something bold and different?
The short answer is, yes, he has. C’mon You Know isn’t exactly Their Satanic Majesties Request, but Gallagher and producer Andrew Wyatt are at least trying to throw a few new things at the wall to see, or rather hear, what sticks. “More Power”, the song that starts the album, begins with a children’s choir. True, the Rolling Stones did it first nearly 53 years ago, but the point is that it’s a new move for Gallagher.
Bringing in Foo Fighters‘ Dave Grohl to co-write and play drums on the single “Everything’s Electric” appears to have given the singer and his team a much-needed boost in the rhythmic area. As of this writing, it has already charted in the UK. When appropriating the drums from “Tomorrow Never Knows” for another single named “Summer Days”, Gallagher and Wyatt give the song a little something extra in the form of a string coda.
“I’m sick of acting like I’m tough,” Gallagher admits on the steadily pounding title track. The song begins with a brief woosh of a synthesizer, then eventually uses a gospel choir to reinforce the “I think it’s coming home again” refrain. If you think this will be a Rattle & Hum moment for Gallagher in the way “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was for U2, it isn’t. He uses the choir sparingly, which is a shame. “Diamond in the Dark”, the fourth single planned for C’mon You Know, is the Madchester beat slowed down, played at half-time, and wandering into a minimal arrangement at the start of the second verse. “There’s a fire in the sky / And baby there’s red dawn in my eyes / And all the meanings got so twisted since you’ve gone.”
C’mon You Know’s non-singles have their tiny surprises, like the roaring guitar riff of “Don’t Go Halfway”, the honking harmonicas of “World’s in Need”, the mandolin strums and digital vocal manipulation of “It Was Not Meant to Be”, and the borderline show tune jaunt of “Moscow Rules”. The caustically-distorted rock number crossed with reggae “I’m Free” is uncharacteristically topical for Gallagher, aiming at the current age of misinformation. “How long you gonna sell illusion / How long you gonna sell confusion / You’re gonna pay the piper man / You’re the sole prisoner taken in the info wars.”
All of these differences in approach are small on a grand scale. You can bring in master cello players and play with the outboard gear all day long, but a Liam Gallagher album will still sound like a Liam Gallagher record. He still grinds his voice, he still opts for hard snarls instead of crooning, even in his ballads like “More Power” and “Too Good For Giving Up”, and his press releases are still preoccupied with his “effortless rock star attitude”. Considering that Liam was the Gallagher brother most concerned with image and attitude, C’mon You Know might be his best solo album so far. Even if his singing voice or public persona turns you off, there’s substance here. Just don’t expect to be taken on some mystery tour. You know, the magical kind.