Early last year, Liam Gallagher promised NME that his second solo album would be “a bit more in-your-face” than ‘As You Were’, the Platinum-shifting game-changer that reignited his career.
It would be “less apologetic”, he said, adding: “I’d love to do a proper out-and-out punk rock album – a bit Pistols, a bit Stooges.” Well, ‘Why Me? Why Not.’ only half-delivers on that promise, though it’s a certainly a worthy victory lap for his lauded comeback.
He’s once again teamed up with his “army of songwriters”, as Noel Gallagher witheringly referred to the co-writers who’ve helped to channel Liam’s Britpop swagger into a glossy 21st century pop-rock template. Super-producer Greg Kurstin and top songwriters Andrew Wyatt and Michael Tighe have returned, while LA indie rocker Damon McMahon also came on board for a couple of tracks. Liam co-wrote every song on this record (he was absent from the songwriting credits on two songs from the predecessor) and it’s a more distinctive and memorable album.
With anybody else you might suggest this implies increased confidence – but how much more self-assured can Liam Gallagher get? Curiously, though, instead of excelling as a Stooges-inspired rocker, ‘Why Me? Why Not.’ truly soars at its most introspective and laidback.
‘One Of Us’, the bruised ballad on which Liam implores an estranged loved one (who could this be about, we wonder?) to “open your door” and remember “you were always one of us”, is in many ways a Gallagher-by-numbers, a sing-song chorus and rollicking acoustic guitar amounting to a track that brings to mind ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’, a latter-day Oasis highlight (a rare thing) from 2002’s ‘Heathen Chemistry’. At the three-minute mark, though, the song slips into a pretty coda of undulating strings and a gospel choir lamenting, “It’s a shame / We thought you’d change”. It’s richer than anything on ‘As You Were’.
‘Once’ is similarly affecting, as this middle-aged rock star misses the good old days and wonders when he was freer, running wild in Burnage as a child or watching the royalties stack up: “It was easier to have fun back when we had nothin’… Back when we were damaged.” And ‘Alright Now’ offsets warm, analogue tones – rolling piano and a laconic bassline – and a spacey, Marc Bolan-style guitar solo, with Liam confessing, “at times I wonder if you’re listening”.
It doesn’t matter if these tender songs are about his older brother: they work because they’re the sound of a notorious big mouth reflecting on a life lived at full speed, as he counts his regrets but refuses to be bowed by them. Like the ‘As You Were’ standout ‘For What It’s Worth’, they capture the contradiction at the heart of Liam Gallagher: acute emotional intelligence meets chin-out bolshiness. It’s always compelling when he reveals this softer side of his psyche. His rivalry with Noel’s become increasingly toxic – their children and other family members have been dragged in – and the air of contrition plays well.
Perhaps that’s why the more “in-your-face” numbers can sometimes feel a little more laboured. It’s interesting that ‘Shockwave’ packs a glam stomp, but Noel-baiting lyrics such as “you’re a snake / you’re a weasel” sound petty rather than revealing in the aforementioned context.
Meanwhile, the pulsing ‘The River’ feels duty bound to fans’ expectations instead of genuinely vehement (it’s hard to imagine Liam Gallagher being particularly worried about “the money sucking MPs”). Soppy love song ‘Now That I’ve Found You’ sounds like the theme tune to a ‘90s sitcom, his very own ‘All For One’, The Stone Roses’ polarising 2015 comeback track.
The rougher stuff works better when it’s imbued with the wooziness of those reflective tracks. ‘Gone’ combines a lithe, Ennio Morricone guitar line with a hushed spoken-word section where, improbably, he sounds a little like Jarvis Cocker. Better still is ‘Halo’, which picks up where the Beady Eye (they weren’t as bad as everybody said!) track ‘Bring The Light’ left off. It’s always fun when Liam does his Jerry Lee Lewis thing, and here he combines rinky-dink piano with a recorder solo.
This album lacks the novelty factor – Liam finally going solo – that made ‘As You Were’ so welcome. But it’s more diverse (everything’s relative) and textured. At times, as on the trippy, psychedelic breakdown that precedes the final reprise of ‘Once’, it drifts deliciously close to “cosmic pop”, the phrase Liam has used to slag off his brother’s more experimental solo stuff (imagine Noel listening to this).
On ‘Meadow’, which has the studied Beatle-isms of a Julian Lennon song, Liam insists, “You’ve got to hold your head up high / If You want to break the chains from your past life”. He’d perhaps do well to take his own advice and give the Noel-baiting stuff a break, but this is a cracking sequel nonetheless.