Chris Newbould looks back on the career of the former Oasis frontman ahead of his Dubai gig tomorrow
Liam Gallagher: a life in rock'n'roll
The Liam Gallagher 'Rock’n’Roll Roadshow' rolls into Dubai this weekend, and, with a debut solo album As You Were that shot straight to the top of the UK charts, outselling the rest of the top 10 combined, it looks like the former Oasis frontman may finally have hit the jackpot after a comparatively unsuccessful career with his post-Oasis outfit Beady Eye.
Gallagher has never been under any threat in terms of his celebrity status – his Mancunian motormouth, rock star tantrums, ongoing feud with brother Noel and various celebrity couplings have made sure of that. In reality, though, his impact as a musician has always been dwarfed by that of his reputation as a guaranteed 'rent-a-quote' source of controversy.
My own adventures with the self-proclaimed "last living rock star" probably began earlier than most. As the singer in a mildly successful indie band in Manchester in the nineties, I once found myself atop the bill of a local band showcase at the city’s Canal Cafe Bar, with an unremarkable outfit called The Rain somewhere below us. As Oasis historians will be aware, The Rain was essentially Oasis before Noel Gallagher climbed on board, took over songwriting duties and changed the course of rock history. I don’t recall being particularly overawed by their talent, but then even Liam himself has conceded that they were not very good. I do remember a mouthy, arrogant frontman who sneered his way through the band’s set, but in a city overflowing with mouthy, arrogant sneers this didn’t seem particularly unusual either.
I gave no further thought to the band until a few months later when, as an audience member at a music festival in the town of Preston, half-an-hour or so from Manchester, a late addition to the bill were rather optimistically introduced with the promise “they’re going to be the biggest band in the world”. The lead singer’s sneer looked strangely familiar. The band was Oasis, and shortly afterwards, in August 1994, Definitely Maybe dropped. The prediction proved eerily correct as the album became the fastest selling debut by a British band ever.
Despite my tenuous ability to claim that “Oasis were my support band,” I never really bought into the mythology around the band, though following the release of Definitely Maybe and its even more successful follow-up (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? in 1995, you really couldn’t avoid them. Their music was on every radio, jukebox and covers band set-list around, while the press was full of the sibling fall-outs, the substance abuse, the air rage bans and, of course, the bitter rivalry with Brit Pop icons Blur.
I may not have been a fan of Oasis’ brand of Slade-inspired lad-rock, but they certainly shook up a music scene dominated on one side of the Atlantic by introspective, self-loathing grunge artists, and on the other by the introspective, cardigan-clad soundscapes of shoegazing bands like My Bloody Valentine and Ride.
It took until Oasis’ fourth album, 2000’s Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, for Liam to get in on the band’s writing duties, with his first self-penned track Little James. By this time, he was the only member of The Rain remaining in the band and the rot was setting in. The fractious nature of life in the band had already helped to drive founding members Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs and Paul "Guigsy" McGuigan out, and the predictable cycle of changing line-ups, ever more bitter public spats and diminishing artistic returns began.
Oasis managed to squeeze out three more albums, culminating in their 2008 swansong Dig Out Your Soul, but by this time the constant drama had become more than enough even for the band’s main songwriter and founder Noel, and, following a swirl of fights, lawsuits and cancelled gigs, he took to the band’s website on August 28, 2009, to write "It is with some sadness and great relief ... I quit Oasis tonight. I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer."
Liam and the remaining members of Oasis determined to carry on, though as new band Beady Eye rather than Oasis. The first album Different Gear, Still Speeding was released in February 2011, accompanied by a short promotional tour on which the band studiously avoided Oasis songs. Reception was muted; although most bands would be thrilled to see their debut sell 175,000 copies in the UK alone, when your previous outfit’s most successful work had shifted 4.5 million in the UK, and 22 million worldwide, success is somewhat relative. Critically too, the album was largely seen as a lightweight 'Oasis-by-numbers', while Liam’s lyrics were widely mocked.
Second album BE (2013) didn’t fare much better. Critically the consensus was “better, but not much”, while commercially it sold less than half as many as its predecessor. The band wisely lifted the live ban on Oasis songs, but it didn’t seem to help. Indifference was rife, and in October 2014, Gallagher took to Twitter to announce the band’s demise.
Gallagher long insisted he had no desire to pursue a solo career, so with an Oasis reunion extremely unlikely it seemed we might have heard the last of his music, if not his jibes and one-liners. Last August, however, he began hinting at a forthcoming solo album in his regular appearances in the media, and As You Were finally landed this month. Critical reception has been better than anything he’s released for years, including later Oasis material, although no one’s pretending his lyric-writing skills have got any better. But the album easily outsold BE in the UK in its first week of release alone.
The singer told Billboard in July: “I never really wanted to do all this solo stuff, but I guess it's my last chance to really make music.” At 45, he may have a point, and he may even have let some of the old ego go too. The recent United States leg of his tour opened with Oasis favourites Rock'n’Roll Star and Morning Glory and then dotted new album tracks among old favourites, rather than vice versa. He may even have dropped his antagonism towards Blur in his newfound maturity – album track Universal Gleam bears an uncanny resemblance to his former nemesis’ balladic 1999 hit Tender, unthinkable a few years ago.
If the younger Gallagher is indeed in the 'last chance saloon', he seems to be doing his best to get out, or at least enjoy an extended stay. You can make your own mind up about his chances on Friday.