How did Liam Gallagher do it? Frankly I’m amazed — not by his first solo album, As You Were, a thoroughly solid if unspectacular affair that’s still way better than even the staunchest Oasis fan could’ve expected from a Liam Gallagher album in 2017. I actually refer to the As You Were album cycle, in which Liam was finally able to flip the script on his brother/rival, Noel, gaining the upper hand in their endless (and endlessly awesome) war of spite and pettinesss.
For years, the narrative for the post-Oasis era was “Noel is the reasonable one” and “Liam is the crazy one.” It was baked into even the most innocuous stories about either brother. But as it currently stands, the story has shifted to “Noel is the unreasonable one” and “Liam is still crazy but maybe he’s also the relatively reasonable one.”
How did this happen?
To understand the deftness of Liam’s recent maneuvers, it helps go back to 2009, when Oasis imploded shortly before they were scheduled to take the stage at a festival in Paris. The gig was subsequently canceled due either to Liam’s laryngitis (Liam’s explanation) or Liam’s hangover (Noel’s explanation). It was later reported that the brothers came to semi-blows backstage, with Liam (supposedly) hurling a plum at Noel and Noel (allegedly) threatening to bash his bloody guitar over Liam’s head. Tell me: Can you tell that I’m smiling from ear to ear while typing this nonsense? I will love these idiots forever.
Shortly after, Noel announced that he quit the band, effectively ending Oasis. In a statement, Noel put the blame squarely on his brother, wearily noting that he “simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer.” Who could blame him? Evidence for Noel’s assertion that Liam was unbearable includes A) every single thing Liam did in the band for their entire existence before that Paris gig; B) throwing a plum. Case closed.
Noel further stigmatized Liam during the press cycle for his first solo album, 2011’s Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, with his virtuoso interview skills. To Chuck Klosterman in Grantland, for instance, Noel suggested that Liam had been angling for a solo career all along. “In my experience, you never see an older brother jealous of a younger brother,” the older Gallagher said of the younger Gallagher. “Maybe he did get cast in the role of the performing f–king monkey by the press, and maybe I got cast as the man behind the curtain. Maybe he wanted to be the Wizard of Oz instead of the monkey.” Noel also played the “loose cannon” card, beautifully. “We’ve always had a different view of the band: I thought the most important part was the songs, and he though the most important part was the chaos.”
At this point, Liam made a tactical error — he leaned into the loutish caricature created by Noel by immediately forming Beady Eye with the remaining walking Beatle haircuts that rounded out Oasis in the band’s final years. Then he filed an ill-advised slander lawsuit over Noel’s claim that he was too hungover to perform in Paris. (When you’re Liam Gallagher, you should never deny being hungover.)
When I spoke with Liam in 2011 on the eve of Beady Eye’s debut, Different Gear, Still Speeding, he had not yet developed the Noel-like interview chops that he’s displayed during the promotion of As You Were. In the course of 15 minutes, I fired off 24 questions, and nearly every one of Liam’s answers was terse and churlish. (Sample interaction: “Will you be playing any Oasis songs live?” “Beady Eye music, mate.”)
Being barely tolerated by Liam Gallagher is an honor akin to being insulted by the late, great Don Rickles. But, clearly, “Beady Eye music, mate” was not going to cut it in terms of establishing a viable solo career. And Liam, to his credit, seems to have realized this, hence the canny reboot. What’s truly genius, however, is how Liam turned Noel’s methods against him during the build-up to last Friday’s release of As You Were.
First, Liam dramatically brushed up his interview skills. Compare recent Liam’s press appearances to his interviews just three or four years ago — he’s remarkably clear, sharp, and at least 75 percent less intoxicated, whether he’s good-naturedly ribbing the indie band Metz, making tea, mocking Carpool Karaoke, or lamenting his fashion-model son wearing a Blur shirt in public. But Liam has been especially good at needling his brother, who he has deemed (in ascending order of hilarious indecency) a “potato,” a “dickhead,” and a “c–t.”
At the same time, Liam has also slyly put the blame for Oasis’s demise back on Noel, reminding the press that his big brother was the one who quit the band in the first place. In several interviews, including an appearance on the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast, Liam made it clear that he would rather be talking about a new Oasis album than his first solo record. Granted, Liam frequently contradicts himself, even in the space of a single paragraph. (To British newspaper The Independent: “I would prefer to be in a band, and we should never ever have split up, but I’m certainly not yearning for it, you know what I mean? I miss being in a band with my brother. But it’s not happening.” I count at least three flip-flops in three sentences.) But if you care at all about the Gallagher brothers at this point, you probably also prefer an Oasis reunion, which naturally aligns you with Liam, a sympathetic figure stymied by a stubborn, uncooperative brother, a 180 from the Oasis narrative back in 2011.
Factor in 2016’s well-received Oasis documentary Supersonic — which made a convincing case for Liam’s chaos elevating Noel’s songs — and suddenly our kid has pulled off the impossible. Liam is now the most likable Gallagher brother. As you were.
Were we supposed to talk about a record? Oh yes, As You Were. It’s pretty good! The songs are punchy and succinct (no Beady Eye-style psychedelic excursions) and above all professional, thanks in part to ringers like super producer Greg Kurstin and Andrew Wyatt of the Swedish indie pop band Miike Snow, both of whom make vital songwriting contributions. And yet, the essential Liam-ness of the endeavor still comes through loud and stupidly clear on As You Were. Liam’s core reference points remain unchanged: The White Album, All Things Must Pass, T. Rex, The Sex Pistols, and the first two Oasis albums. As You Were sounds like it could’ve come out between Heathen Chemistry and Don’t Believe The Truth, and if you recognize that as a compliment, then you will be in the right headspace to enjoy this record.
It goes without saying that the lyrics on As You Were as godawful, because godawful lyrics about “sinks full of fishes” and “girls named Elsa who are into Alka-Seltzer” were always a key component of the best Oasis songs. (They were also a component of the worst Oasis songs. Godawful Oasis lyrics are more reliable than death and taxes.) What always matters most is that Liam sings those asinine words with swaggering conviction, so that they sound tough and true.
I’m happy to report that Liam’s skills as a moron whisperer remain as keen as ever on As You Were. You can hear it in the two-fisted Esperanto of the lilting “Chinatown,” which opens with this incredible verse:
Well the cops are taking over
While everyone’s in yoga
‘Cause happiness is still a warm gun
What’s it to be free man?
What’s a European?
Me I just believe in the sun
I have no idea what in the hell Liam was thinking when he wrote that. I prefer to believe that he employed William S. Burroughs’ cut-up technique with a stack of Guy Ritchie screenplays. Whatever it was, [kisses fingers].
Just as he smartly readjusted his attitude toward the press, Liam has reconsidered his approach to making music after Oasis. With Beady Eye, he was obsessed with proving his mettle as a songwriter and bandleader, in an attempt to best Noel in the two areas in which he was always going to be the inferior Gallagher. It was a fool’s game. On As You Were, however, Liam is back to focusing on his strengths: Attitude, arrogance, and that unmistakeable vocal sneer. In those ways, Liam sounds more like Oasis than Noel, whose recent solo work has tended toward mid-tempo dullness.
Noel of late certainly hasn’t mustered anything as infectious as As You Were highlights like the harmonica-driven single “Wall Of Glass” and the unapologetic “Champagne Supernova” rip-off “Universal Gleam,” which are just straight-up, good-time, pints-hoisting music. Noel might still be the mastermind, but Liam, for now, is a lot more fun.
And since we’re having fun, how about some subtweets? Liam sneaks in a shot at his prodigal sibling in the aptly named rocker “Bold,” though to spot it you have to be acquainted with Noel’s second solo album, 2015’s Chasing Yesterday, hardly an obvious reference. Deep down, Liam remains Noel’s biggest fan; he’s even hung up on lesser albums in his brother’s discography.
When Liam appears to reference Noel more directly on As You Were, it’s in the spirit of reconciliation. In the big-hearted ballad “For What It’s Worth,” he looks back, not in anger, but in sadness: “Let’s leave the past behind with all our sorrows / I’ll build a bridge between us and I’ll swallow my pride.” Later, on the pretty “I’ve All I Need,” Liam once again leans in for a brotherly hug: “There’s no time for looking back / Thanks for all your support / Slow down, all things must pass / Take your time, know the score.”
Is this most diabolical trolling of all, another chance for Liam to make his brother look bad for refusing to engage with his contrite (but possibly still intolerable) little brother? I suspect that’s what Noel thinks, assuming his head hasn’t already exploded a hundred times after months of Liam’s taunts. If that is the case, though, Noel might want to reconsider his reluctance to revive Oasis. It might be the only way to keep Liam under control. Heed the words of another powerful man who ran a family business: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
As You Were is out now via Warner Bros. UK. Get it here.