Album Review: "As You Were," by Liam Gallagher

 Guess who's back... (image via  Wikimedia Commons )

Guess who's back... (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Somehow, Liam Gallagher is cool again.

The ex-Oasis and Beady Eye frontman has been on a charm-offensive to promote his solo debut album, "As You Were." Whereas the man who used to be notorious for showing up to interviews drunk, high, or both while muttering monosyllabic answers (when he wasn't shouting obscenities) that necessitated a real-time chav-to-English translator and an ever vigilant censor, Gallagher seems to have matured over these last few years. During his publicity tour for "As You Were," Gallagher actually seems sober, funny, insightful and likable - much to the surprise of anyone that knows anything about him (this clip of him making tea is both hilarious and revealing). For instance, an actual headline from Esquire reads: "Liam Gallagher Is Trying Not to be a Dickhead."

Maybe it's maturity. Maybe it's his decision to stop going on drunken and drug-fueled benders. Maybe it's a savvy play from someone who knows he could make a ton of money off his comeback if he plays it right. Or maybe it's because he's been humbled. After all, the last few years haven't been good to the swaggering, braggadocious superstar that once believed he was the second coming of John Lennon - minus the pesky social conscience. Oasis broke up in 2009, with Liam (rightly or wrongly) shouldering much of the blame. His band Beady Eye, which was basically Oasis-minus-Noel, sank after two lackluster albums. Then, he got divorced from his wife, All Saints singer Nicole Appleton, after he fathered a love child with a U.S. journalist in 2013. Meanwhile, he had to watch as Noel became a front-man in his own right, forming Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds to critical acclaim and commercial success. 

Of course, everyone loves a comeback story, and Liam Gallagher's struggles over the last decade have made him more sympathetic (or, at the very least, worth rooting for). "I think people have missed me," Gallagher told Esquire. "Whatever it is about me they like, I think they missed it. I think I've got a good album, with good songs on it, and I feel refreshed. I feel like I'm ready to come back and do what I'm best at, and that's just fucking singing my heart out, you know what I mean? I'm talking a whole load of shit, man, because I'm equally as good at that as I am at singing."

And he's right about having a good album. "As You Were" is a fun, enjoyable record that showcases the best Liam Gallagher has to offer. The time off, as well as his newfound moderation means that his voice sounds better than it has any point since the 90's ended. And it's not because of studio tricks. His live performances have been, mostly, first-rate and he sounds revitalized and rejuvenated; hitting and holding notes (even on tricky Oasis songs like "Slide Away”) like he hasn’t in years. 

Mostly, he’s learned to play to his strengths. Beady Eye’s albums were unfocused and, at the end, needlessly complicated - almost as if Liam and company were trying to be better than either Oasis or Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Relying on a triumvirate of producers: Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia, Ellie Goulding, Foo Fighters), Andrew Wyatt (Mike Snow, The Big Pink, Hugh Grant) and Dan Grech-Marguerat (Keane, Lana Del Rey, Mumford and Sons), as well as several co-songwriters, Gallagher avoids that mistake and sticks to doing what he does best: singing straightforward pop and rock tunes with swagger and verve. Lead single “Wall of Glass” is an excellent song built around a “Swamp Song”-esque harmonica riff that will have you tapping (or stomping) your feet. Fourth single “Greedy Soul” has a killer guitar riff and the verses have a similar structure as one of Oasis's best songs, “Supersonic.” The lyrical sentiment is similar, as well, with Liam substituting “I’m feeling supersonic” with “I don’t give a f—k” and “I’ve got the Midas touch."

As with Beady Eye, there seem to be several references to Noel Gallagher - some positive and some not-so-much. On "Bold," Liam casually drops in the phrase "chasing yesterday" (the title of Noel's second solo album) in a throwaway line as if to be cheeky and to give people something to write about. He's more direct on "You Better Run," a seeming response to one of Noel's standout tracks, "Everybody's On the Run." That song, which opened Noel's solo debut album, seems to have a pretty direct attack on Liam: "You've been drifting and stealing / Trying to walk in my shoes / But they don't belong to you.. / You know, you know, you know they don't. / But you can't find the meaning, / Sing to yourself and hold on." On "You Better Run," Liam (who's on record saying he liked "Everybody's On the Run") admits that he was going for a "cocky" and "aggro" vibe on the song with verses like: "Well, I’m gonna steal your thunder / You’d better run, you’d better hide" and "I see you, you think you’re something / Well you’re nothing, you’re a butterfly." Maybe he's talking about any number of his enemies besides Noel (Maybe it's Damon Albarn, who he still enjoys criticizing - or Robbie Williams, who knows?). But it doesn't seem like it.

Of course, it's not all self-puffery and machismo. One of the true standout tracks is third single, "For What It's Worth," which sounds a lot like "Don't Go Away" in that Liam uses his vocal inflections and delivery to convey his vulnerability. "In my defense, all my intentions were good... For what it's worth, I'm sorry for the hurt I'll be the first to say, 'I made my own mistakes,'" could be a line directed at any number of people - Patsy Kensit, Nicole Appleton, Noel. Either way, it's a stunning vocal performance that shows why Liam is such a compelling front-man. He can turn on a dime and go from preening, arrogant jerk to beseeching, sensitive atoner - and believably pull off both roles. In the end, people want to like him and want to see something redeeming in him. That's probably why people are rooting for him in his comeback.

And so far, it seems to be working. "As You Were" is a smash hit in the U.K. and Gallagher is making an aggressive play for the U.S. market, appearing on both "The Late Late Show with James Corden" and the "Late Show with Stephen Colbert." Now the pressure's on Noel, whose High Flying Birds now includes ex-Oasis/Beady Eye members Gem Archer and Chris Sharrock. They'll be out with a new album at the end of next month (lead single "Holy Mountain" is out already and let's just say that it seems like Noel was listening to Ricky Martin when he wrote it), but given Noel's career trajectory, it's safe to assume that it won't be nearly as good as "As You Were." It's ironic that the High Flying Birds are now closer to Beady Eye than they were when Noel first put them together, while Liam is the one who just released a killer solo album. It's like the roles have been completely reversed. Who would've thunk it? 

Grade: A-

Victor Li

chicago, il