In the mid- to late-90s there was one popular rock n’ roll band who played louder than the others – Oasis. Not only were they loud, but they were characters and, from time to time, hilarious tabloid subjects. The two creative minds behind the band, brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, fought constantly, Liam at times all but torturing Noel (as well as several other rockers of the era). Any rock fan over the age of 25 probably knows all these things about Oasis all too well. They also probably know that the band released a couple truly classic records and a handful of killer radio songs (one of which, “Wonderwall,” is one of the biggest rock classics of modern times). What many people outside of the U.K. likely don’t know is that Oasis continued releasing records for years after the height of their fame. They released album after album, all of which were celebrated in their native land of England and mostly ignored elsewhere (at least when compared to their previous hits). The brothers Gallagher finally called it quits a few years ago and have been pursuing other interests ever since. Noel, arguably the talent of the band, has been releasing records under his High Flying Birds moniker while Liam, the face and personality of the band, has – along with other members of Oasis – now released two albums under the band name Beady Eye.
Both bands sound at least a little bit – if not a whole lot – like Oasis. While Noel’s HFB debut received the better reviews, it has been Beady Eye who have been, I think, more interesting (and certainly more active). The band’s 2011 debut, Different Gear, Still Speeding, was a highly listenable pop rock record produced by Steve Lillywhite. The issue with that record, at least in the Gallagherverse, is that the best tracks were all written by multi-instrumentalist Andy Bell – furthering the theory that Liam is little more than a mostly talentless frontman. The band’s second album, the just-released BE, produced by David Sitek (TV on the Radio), is a step in the right direction. This time around the songwriting credits aren’t divvied up but, rather, credited equally to Liam, Bell and hotshot guitarist Gem Archer, best known for his work with Paul Weller, Heavy Stereo and, of course, Oasis. All that said, the sound here isn’t all that different than what we heard on Different Gear. A mix of rockers and acoustic ballads, almost all focused on big hooks and rambling rhythms. The same old Stones- and Beatles-obsessed sound.
I won’t say that Liam’s lyrics are embarrassing. They’re not quite that bad, but they’re close. Despite being cocky and mouthy and at times oddly articulate, Liam’s words are almost always obvious and simple – and never profound or poetic. They’re, at their best, functional. But Liam has always been a good rock n’ roll singer and a vivacious frontman. As a vocalist, he has such a signature whine and howl that he could likely sing spam ads and his longtime fans will almost certainly enjoy it. Perhaps that’s the biggest difference between Beady Eye and High Flying Birds – Noel doesn’t have that signature vocal that Oasis fans loved so much. Noel has maybe everything else working for him, but not the vocal elements.
Opener “Flick of the Finger” is a smoky, stomping, retro rocker with a very 70s sound that just might remind you a bit of The Zombies. Sitek’s production is thick and hazy, just how Gallagher likes his albums to sound. We hear a whole lot of sound – including an army of shakers, a horn section and Bell’s chugging baselines. It’s a real thump of a radio track, made perfect for all those Brit-pop nostalgics still kicking around across the pond. Made perfect, really, for anyone who gets to know it a bit, aided heavily by Sitek’s brilliant, dense production. Another highlight is the Lennon-esque (and totally anthemic) “Second Bite of the Apple,” which pretty much feels like a classic-era Oasis hit, but with some new pedal effects and a whole lot of horns. The string arrangement is solid, just like on many classic Oasis tracks, and Liam’s vocal is as big as it’s been in years. It’s maybe a little sad to see a once-important artist just “playing the hits,” but when the results work this well, it’s hard to complain too much.
All together, BE features six or seven very strong tracks, maybe two or which will even stand as new Gallagher classics. Oh, and the cover art – a photo by Harri Peccinotti of his wife – is stellar. It’s maybe even the most classic thing about this record. Really, all we have here is another slightly pleasing bit of that once-incredible Oasis charm, run through Dave Sitek’s amazing production filter. Not bad at all. There’s certainly enough here to keep that swaggering Gallagher buzz alive a little while longer, even if it’s not nearly as, err, cool as it once was.