In my head, having a brother is like having a built-in best friend, though I know the reality is very different. Everyone I know with a brother seems to have some sort of issue with him. Noel and Liam Gallagher, the creative force behind the last great british rock band that mattered, have to my knowledge always been in a state of embattlement. Locking horns over creative differences is one thing, giving each other brutal back-stage beat downs is something else entirely.
When the boys could work together, the music they produced was astounding. Oasis never was anything other than two British lads trying to out-Beatle The Beatles. In the 1990’s it worked and Oasis became a household name with hits like “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova.” But then drugs and conflict pulled the band down a rabbit hole of mediocrity and diminishing album sales. Initially I was not a fan of the brutish Brit-rockers. I found Liam’s nasally, Lennon-obsessed vocals to be grating. And I didn’t see much value in Noel’s rather by-the-numbers balladry. I’d always been a huge Beatles fan growing up, and I found Oasis to be more rip-off than torch-passing tribute. I’ve softened on this position over the years and my appreciation of Oasis oddly grew as their general fame receded.
During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Oasis put out a string of competent, though somewhat spotty albums that were both risky and highly indulgent. Most people were turned off by albums like STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS and HEATHEN CHEMISTRY, but I found them to be much more interesting than their “safer” Beatle-esque material. This period of the band’s life was marked by heavier (than usual) in-fighting and heavy cocaine abuse. Then in 2005 the band released DON’T BELIEVE THE TRUTH and had a minor comeback.
In 2008 the band released DIG OUT YOUR SOUL and went on tour. I was lucky enough to see Oasis perform in Chicago on what was to be their final tour. The concert was great but the album they were supporting was lackluster. When the band broke up in 2009 I was saddened but not surprised. The boys had finally called it quits after some sort of altercation occurred back stage and Liam ended up breaking Noel’s guitar. These type of shenanigans, which seemed quaint back in the “Wonderwall” days seemed pathetic. Especially when you consider that they’re both pretty damn old to still be getting in backstage fights. If you can’t get along then move on.
Which is what both brothers said they were going to do. I didn’t anticipate the both of them to release albums this year. I figured, like I think most people did, that when Oasis broke up that would be the end of the brothers Gallagher. I thought that perhaps they’d fight over the name Oasis, maybe even mount competing tours. I can close my eyes and almost see each of them proclaiming their version to be the “true” Oasis.
Liam, I was certain, was going to be fucked without Noel. He was the principal singer but not the band’s main songwriter. All the big hits were Noel’s, who besides writing songs was also the lead guitarist. In fact, when Oasis played live, Liam seemed very awkward just standing there, waiting to sing. He’d often clutch a tambourine, to give himself something to hold, but for the most part he looked pretty lost. When one of Noel’s songs came up (the ones he actually sang), Liam would leave the stage entirely.
So the brother who wrote less, played no instruments, and was generally regarded to be the chief fuck of the band was going to have a hard time as a solo act. That much I was sure. Noel, on the other hand, seemed more like George Harrison–a brilliant artist stifled by being in the world’s biggest band. Surely the break-up of Oasis would be a good thing for his career/music. Without Liam constantly offering him roadblocks and hoging the limelight, he’d be free to become the star he always seemed to be. That’s what I thought was going to happen.
But life is funny and people are always surprising. Liam and the remaining members of Oasis formed the band Beady Eye and announced they were recording an album only months after the break-up. Two years later DIFFERENT GEAR, STILL SPEEDING came out and was pretty damn good. Not only did Liam beat Noel to the punch by having his album come out first, it wasn’t a complete distaster. “Bring the Light” a rollicking piano number and “The Roller” were better than anything late-period Oasis were putting out, even on their “comeback” DON’T BELIEVE THE TRUTH. Not every track was what I’d call classic, but the album didn’t disappoint. Liam hadn’t embarrassed himself.
So, if Liam’s album was great then Noel’s album was going to be FANTASTIC. Right? Well there was silence on the Noel Gallagher front for several months, then it was announced that his album and band was going to be called NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS. When I finally got my hands on the album I recognized two of the songs. Unlike Liam (who was not regarded as the writer) Noel had recycled two unreleased Oasis songs for his solo debut. Those tracks, “(I Wanna Live In a Dream In My) Record Machine” and “Stop the Clocks.” These songs aren’t super-obscure either. Hell, they played “Record Machine” when I saw them in Chicago and “Stop the Clocks” was the TITLE of their greatest hits compilation (though it was ultimately left off because Noel wasn’t done tinkering with it). Noel the master songwriter had taken longer to release an album of old songs?
Something didn’t feel right. And while NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS is just as good as Beady Eye’s album, there’s still something very wrong with that. I almost feel like Liam stepped his game up for the Beady Eye record and Noel slacked off and gave us something good but not his best work. The two Oasis-era songs were good and “If I Had A Gun…” and the single “The Death of You and Me” are very catchy…but ultimately I feel like by not completely screwing up his album, Liam stole some of Noel’s thunder. Both Liam and Noel are busy touring and have announced new albums for next year. Only time will tell if the Gallagher brothers will ever make amends and reform Oasis. If they weren’t family, I’d say it was a remote possibility, but with blood you never can tell.