It’s the 25th anniversary of Definitely Maybe, and the warring brothers have both just released new music. But how do these new songs differentiate from their Britpop belters of yester-year?
A quarter of a century on from Oasis’ beloved debut album Definitely Maybe, and music’s favourite sibling rivalry shows no signs of reaching resolution. Along with the 25th anniversary of Definitely Maybe, 2019 also brings us new releases from both Liam and Noel. The two have exchanged more slaggings in the press and on Twitter than any sane person would be willing to count, but – with both brothers having put out new material recently – we can lay aside the insults and drunken online rants for a moment to look at what really matters: the music.
The fact that a single featuring only an extended recording of Liam and Noel having a violent spat in an interview nearly broke into the UK Top 40 is perhaps the best testament to just how interested the British public are in the enduring feud. The single – titled Wibbling Rivalry – is also an excellent record of the conflict of visions regarding what Oasis was or should be. For Noel, understandably as the principal songwriter, it was about creating something which could endure and be listened to for decades to come. But for Liam, a rock ’n’ roll band was about more than hit singles and classic albums – it was about attitude, swagger, and getting arrested a lot.
Which brings us on to Liam’s second album as a solo artist, Why Me? Why Not. The album is essentially a victory lap for the former Oasis frontman, following on from his triumphant return to music after a three-year hiatus prompted by the disintegration of Beady Eye. As You Were was a well-crafted, characteristically straightforward rock album which pleased that subset of Oasis fans who couldn’t get on board with Noel’s gradual sonic departure from his pure rock roots. The honesty and loyalty to (what he sees as) true rock ‘n’ roll of Liam’s comeback effort really was a breath of fresh air in 2017, but you needn’t have been clairvoyant to predict that this novelty could easily (and quickly) grow stale.
In the run-up to this new release, Liam made no secret of the fact that it was created with the help of what he himself described as his “army of songwriters”. This is almost certainly responsible for many of the more enjoyable aspects of the album, such as the rich and textured instrumentation on the title track or the strings on One of Us, which Liam would not have had the compositional skills to write alone. However, while LG’s honesty in this matter is refreshing, it is also obvious, in a less favourable way, on many of the songs on the album. The most glaring example occurs on the fifth song on the album, Halo, which smacks us with formulaic song structure and overly simplistic, almost childish lyrics. Additionally, the almost total domination of the album by studio-assigned professional songwriters leaves the album almost completely without a sense of artistic vision, and more like an overly polished major label product.
In place of a singular musical direction, the central appeal of the album is Liam, his personality, and his story up to this point. For those invested in the continuing saga of the rock legend, there is plenty to enjoy about this album. It is also telling that the average age at Liam Gallagher gig remains comparatively low next to other rockstars of his era – Noel included. Something about his attitude and honesty is timeless, and the “mad fer it” youth still recognise it as something a part of themselves. Without this context, however, the album would struggle to hold up as a standalone piece of work.
On the other side of the Gallagher spectrum, we have Noel’s second EP of the year: This is the Place. Following on from his earlier 2019 release, Noel continues to infuse elements of other disparate genres in his journey of musical exploration. In his own words a very “Mancunian” release, this new EP heavily employs elements of dance and electronica, culminating in one of his most impressive and musically interesting releases in the 10 years since his departure from Oasis. It’s clear that Noel has a genuine love for these musical styles which he chooses to draw from.
However, as much as Noel has been showered with praise for his “experimental” new directions, this is only valid in the frame of reference of a 90s Britpop star. Compared to much of the other music out there in the current musical climate, Noel’s forays into funk, electronic, or anything else that takes his fancy, remain overall quite garden-variety and safe. In this sense, Noel is also, to a degree, trading on name value.
It seems that as long as the Gallagher brothers are forced to inhabit the same Earth, their feud will live on. In retrospect, it’s obvious that the perpetual friction between the two was vital to the success of Oasis: Liam’s unimpeachably commanding stage presence and ability to generate some of the most outlandish stories of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery, combined with Noel’s wit and songwriting prowess. But like a burning car speeding down a hill, it was unlikely to stay in one piece for very long. The split of the band also split the fans into the Noel camp and Liam camp, who can agree only on their desire for the brothers to reunite one way or another. But while Noel shows no intention of playing the reunion card, it seems as though this rivalry really could “live forever”.