When watching Charlie Lightening’s fascinating documentary, As It Was, that details Liam Gallagher’s journey from the rock ‘n’ roll wilderness to rejuvenated, chart-bothering, arena-filling solo star, one can’t help but feel that failure and a little bit of self-doubt have done Gallagher a world of good. In identifying his weaknesses (“I’m a songwriter that hasn’t got a lot of songs”), and establishing what it is that drives him, he has put his heart and soul, into what really matters. As he says himself in the film, “I Just want to sing rock ‘n’ roll music, and when I don’t do it, it fucking drives me mad.”
That newfound humility and appreciation of being granted a second shot at success is a thread that runs right through the follow up to the album that brought him triumphantly back into popular consciousness. That album, As You Were, wisely placed Gallagher as returning rock ‘n’ roll figurehead. The true keeper of the Oasis rock ‘n’ roll legacy. Truth be told, no one was making music like that at the time, so there was a position to be filled and boy, did he fill it. A younger Gallagher would have used that success to further fuel his ego, enjoying the adulation as the one true king. However, this is an older and wiser Gallagher showing a little more modesty and acknowledging that there is plenty of room on his throne for those that aided his restoration.
The album opens with the glam stomp of “Shockwave”. It’s Gallagher at his swaggering best, all sneering attitude and chutzpah. Musically, it’s not his most original moment by any means. But with the tight production and little harmonica flourishes, it’s a solid, sonic continuation of the musical blueprint he laid out for himself on As You Were. If there was any doubt as to the current state of his relationship with Noel, then lines like “you’re a snake/a weasel” suggest that they’re probably not on each other’s holiday card lists.
In many respects, the more reflective, acoustic ballad, “One of Us”, serves as the counterpoint to “Shockwave’s” sneering chastisement. Rather than berate the subject, Gallagher urges them to remember the good old days when it was always us against them. It’s one of the many heart-on-the-sleeve moments that define the album with Gallagher displaying a vulnerability and innocence only touched upon on As You Were.
Nostalgia is a core theme throughout the album. While musical nostalgia has always been part of the Gallaghers’ oeuvre, on “Once”, Liam surveys the sepia-tinged memories of a remarkable career. What could have been a bitter raging against the dying of the light, comes across as an acceptance that the enormous high points, the Knebworths, the number one singles should be treated like souvenirs from an incredible trip.
The truly heartfelt “Now That I’ve Found You”, is a sweet ode to his daughter Molly Moorish. It’s a well-written slice of classicist rock ‘n’ roll with effortless, breezy melodies skillfully sewn into it. “Halo” ups the tempo with a honky-tonk piano melody that borrows liberally from “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and then adds some rumbling, fuzzed-out guitar riffage.
By the mid-point, it’s clear that this is a very different Liam Gallagher from anything he has put his hand to before. With its chugging strings “Why Me? Why Not.” finds Gallagher acknowledging the people that got him to this point in his career. “You got me over the line / You got me kissing the sky.” It’s a sincere and somewhat unexpected expression of humility. “Be Still” is a little edgier, coming over like a lost mod anthem. Meanwhile, the Lennon-esque “Alright Now” looks at life with a similar middle-aged, maturity that Lennon displayed on his Double Fantasy album.
The Lennon-isms continue with “Meadow”, but this time with a little sprinkling of psychedelia. With organs swells and hazy guitars, Gallagher’s vocals get a little trippier as they gently spin off into the ether. The wilder, “The River” is a strutting, 1960s rock ‘n’ roll indebted anthem for those fans that have stuck with him through thick and thin. It may contain some slightly clunky attempts at social commentary, but it’ll please fans, while also undoubtedly sounding monumental live.
Album closer, “Gone” ties all the album’s central themes together. Over an Ennio Morricone style guitar riff, Liam accepts that life is very different now, “The changing of the guard is oh so real” but, of course, can’t resist one last dig at brother Noel, “You had fun stringing me along” and “I wanna hear you beg me.” However, rather than simply score-settling and playground taunts, this is Liam finally finding his place and stepping out a little further from his brother’s shadow.
Why Me? Why Not. is not the swaggering, confident album you might expect. Rather, there is a vulnerability and a sense of humility to go with the polished songcraft. While the musical influences are pretty standard Liam Gallagher fare these are surprisingly accomplished, memorable songs. The lasting, overall impression is of Gallagher discovering a belief in himself as an artist rather than simply as a singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band.