***ALBUM OF THE MONTH | September 2019***
Why Me? Why Not.
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This remains the burning question on millions of Oasis devotees’ minds, ever since the brothers called it a day on their storied career as the UK’s biggest band ten years ago in August 2009, owing to their notoriously (and publicly) irreconcilable differences and irascible egos.
And while they could certainly conspire to cash in together by selling out arenas worldwide for months on end, they each seem to have attained relative states of mid-life contentment creatively, professionally and personally, meaning the odds of a family reunion anytime soon are remote at best.
In the ten years since their less than amicable split, the brothers Gallagher have remained plenty productive. And not just with respect to the seemingly ceaseless, yet publicity-friendly war of words between them in interviews and across social media. The elder’s High Flying Birds outfit have released three successful albums (2011’s Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, 2015’s Chasing Yesterday and 2017’s Who Built The Moon?), while the younger followed two albums by his short-lived Beady Eye endeavor (2011’s Different Gear, Still Speeding and 2013’s BE) with his career-recalibrating solo debut As You Were in 2017. A critically lauded commercial smash, As You Were was the only rock album to crack the top 10 of the UK’s best-selling albums of 2017 at #9 (Noel’s Who Built the Moon? garnered the #19 spot, for reference), while also ranking as the #2 best-selling vinyl album of the year.
For better or for worse, and despite the vindication of As You Were, Noel continues to be perceived by many as the musical genius in the family—perhaps not a surprising opinion considering his role as Oasis’ chief songwriter and lead guitarist. But Liam was unequivocally the preeminent spirit and swagger behind the beloved band, elements that were just as integral to their remarkable ascendance in the mid ‘90s as the music itself.
However, Liam’s select co-writing credits on As You Were reinforced that he’s no slouch in the writing department, even if the final set was the product of close, calculated collaboration with super-producer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Beck, Foo Fighters), Andrew Wyatt (of Miike Snow) and Dan Grech-Marguerat (Lana Del Rey, Keane, Scissor Sisters).
With Kurstin and Wyatt back in the fold for his second solo foray, along with Simon Aldred (of Cherry Ghost) and Adam Noble, Liam has exerted even more control over the proceedings by co-writing all eleven tracks on Why Me? Why Not. Indeed, his expanded role in the album’s creation suggests a growing composure coupled with an emboldened introspection as a songwriter, moving further beyond the shadows of lingering comparisons to his older brother. Even the record’s title—originally inspired by two self-portraits by Liam’s hero John Lennon—exudes confidence in its defiant refutation of doubters continuing to question his abilities.
Yet despite his newfound independence as an artist, it’s immediately evident within the album’s first trio of terrific songs that his estrangement from Noel still weighs heavy on his conscience. With the fevered rush of the guitar-swathed album opener and liberating lead single “Shockwave,” Liam delivers a definitive statement, proclaiming his career resurrection is in full swing and referencing his big brother in the opening verse, as he sneers, “You sold me right up the river / You had to hold me back / You could’ve looked for the sunshine, yeah / But you had to paint the whole thing black / Now I'm back in the city / The lights are up on me / They tried to keep me locked away / But hallelujah I feel free.”
The tone quickly becomes more wistfully nostalgic on the most recently released single “One of Us,” a standout, strings-laden recollection of his familial and musical history with Noel that finds Liam extending the proverbial olive branch, while referencing the anthemic Oasis tune “Live Forever” in the chorus. Likewise, on the more somber “Once,” Liam laments that their glory days are firmly in the rearview and second chances are hard to come by, as he reflects, “When the dawn came up you felt so inspired to do it again / But it turns out / You only get to do it once.”
Thankfully, Liam says his peace about matters with Noel and then moves on to other more varied subject matter for the remainder of the album, with plenty of highlights to be found throughout the ensuing eight tracks. An enveloping stormer of a second single, “The River” examines the pitfalls of an increasingly superficial, detached modern existence devoid of substance and connection, with Liam admonishing, “Well, the walls are closing in / And your head’s in constant spin / And the pain in your eyes, I do comprehend / Don't believe celebrities / The money-suckin' MPs / The device in your hands, imitates your beauty.”
Declaring that “the future’s yours and mine,” “Now That I’ve Found You” is an endearing dedication to his estranged 21-year-old daughter, whom he recently reconnected with, a long overdue event that caused him to make up for lost time and reconcile his regrets as a father.
Additional highlights include the charging title track that showcases his vocal versatility in hitting the high notes during the song’s chorus, the buoyant piano-driven love song “Halo,” the uplifting pop of “Alright Now,” the Beatles-esque rumination of the psychedelic-leaning “Meadow,” and the stirring album closer “Gone,” an ode to escapism and paving his own path, which serves as a fitting climax to the entire affair.
The enduring charm of Liam Gallagher is that there’s seemingly nothing overwrought or disingenuous about him. He is, unapologetically, who he is. And the same holds true for his music. Or as he explained during a recent Q magazine interview, “I see my music as like a Sunday roast. As an idea, it’s been mastered. But I want to make the very best version of it that you can have.”
Some might surmise that with Why Me? Why Not., Liam is simply sticking with what works well and not taking as many creative chances as he should at this point in his career reascendance. But since when is experimentation a prerequisite for the preservation of greatness, especially when the slate of songs in question are as good as the eleven on offer here?
Last month, we celebrated the 25-year milestone of Oasis’ landmark debut album Definitely Maybe (1994), which signaled the formal arrival of a distinctive, powerful, once-in-a-generation voice in British music. Two-and-a-half decades on from that paradigm-shifting event, Liam’s inimitable charisma still inspires, still consumes, and the winsome Why Me? Why Not. is unmistakable evidence of this fact.
Whereas others with similar, bona fide rock legend credentials have proven vulnerable to the inevitable mid-life creative crisis, Liam Gallagher is transforming his music into refreshing middle-aged catharsis and an inspired artistic reaffirmation that sounds primed to continue unabated.
Notable Tracks: “Gone” | "Meadow" | “One of Us” | "The River"