The language of press releases is often unforgiving, sometimes deliberately obfuscating and always littered with well-worn phrases that never really signify anything of the sound you will hear when the music plays out of your speakers. If a record is described as “back-to-basics” with a suggestion of “genuine rock ‘n’ roll”, the general rule of thumb is to be polite and listen while trying to expurgate any memories of “genuine rock ‘n’ roll” acts you’ve heard and quite possibly enjoyed so as to excuse any pale imitations or shameless pilfering you may more than likely encounter. This approach rarely works, trust me. On the other side of that coin is the album which promises to be “experimental”. The rule of thumb here requires a bit more effort on the part of the listener especially if the artist is not known for their progressive leanings. In the majority of cases, you will find yourself running for the hills, in search of a simpler life, away from the noises which so blighted your fragile, unsuspecting ears.
Beady Eye’s latest offering BE, helmed by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, comes weighted with the expectations that this group (essentially Oasis, circa their break up in 2009, minus key songwriter Noel Gallagher, adding Kasabian sideman Jay Mehler and bassist Jeff Wootton who departed after recording BE) should deliver “genuine rock ‘n’ roll” and with Sitek in the producer’s chair, also push their sound away from Oasis into more “experimental” territory. An early teaser single, Flick of the Finger, released in April, featured shuffling drums creating a neat rhythm but gave little away as to the direction of the record.
Sadly the rest of the album does not truly deliver satisfyingly on either front, there’s not enough undiluted rock ‘n’ roll (even with the nude woman on the cover, as sure a sign as any), experimentation with Beady Eye’s sound or indeed any middle ground between the two as might have been anticipated when Sitek was first announced as producer. What we have instead is songwriting on par with Beady Eye’s 2011 record Different Gear, Still Speeding only with unsettling keyboard atmospheres clouding almost every track and the attitude and swagger stripped back. And what is a Liam Gallagher record without swagger? Pretty dull it turns out.
Gallagher turns in a by-the-numbers performance throughout. His voice, a little higher than we’re used to and with less Cigarettes & Alcohol-flavour each passing year, is always front and centre in the mix, his tired lyrical clichés failing to inspire. Similarly the rest of the band fails to turn in performances with the same verve and lease of life they earned and relished in on Different Gear… It’s worth noting that Gallagher has intimated that this record could be Beady Eye’s last, should it fail commercially which has of course, not accidentally, fanned the flames of a potential Oasis reunion. If this should prove their swansong, on this showing, evidence suggests they will go out with less a bang, than a whimper.
Much of the burden of expectation that Beady Eye would be encouraged to explore parts unknown rests with Sitek. Sitek’s decision to partner with Liam Gallagher’s post-Oasis outfit may have seemed bizarre to many but you have to remember that this is a man who, at the height of his fame and influence in 2008, decamped to Louisiana with Hollywood A-Lister Scarlett Johansson to record a surprisingly good album of Tom Waits covers, Anywhere I Lay my Head, with an extraordinary cast of contributors including Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, members of TV on the Radio and the Thin White Duke himself, David Bowie. Compared to that, this collaboration and the record it produced is quite tame.
With less embellishment from guitarists Gem Archer and Andy Bell, also the other two songwriters in Beady Eye, the band are heavily reliant on the soundscapes of Sitek to bolster their sound on BE. Very rarely however does his production add anything but cloying feedback or echo to otherwise passable melodies as on Shine a Light, Iz Rite and Ballroom Figured. His most criminal indiscretion is the almost interminable coda he adds to Don’t Brother Me, a song guaranteed to generate tabloid controversy, with lyrics sarcastically paraphrasing the senior Gallagher’s High Flying Birds album despite recent reports that Liam wants to reunite to celebrate the 20th anniversary of debut Definitely Maybe.
That said, it’s not all bad; first single Second Bite of the Apple is hardly emblematic of the album providing one instance where Sitek’s influence is keenly felt and actually serves to improve the song. Starting with a Sympathy for the Devil-style shaker, it’s not long before the instantly memorable chorus, featuring a terrific brass section along with one of Gallagher’s best vocals creates a tune of real groove and power. Bell delivers two of the album’s standout tracks. Both Face the Crowd and I’m Just Saying follow a similar formula with three-chord, slightly off-kilter Revolver-era Beatles riffs but crucially, they have rousing choruses and they finish abruptly, leaving you wanting more. I’m Just Saying’s glam rock swing is worth highlighting as a track where the band finds a danceable beat without forcing it.
The closer and perhaps the finest song here, Start Anew with its legitimately affecting refrain of “Got the whole world in our hands, me and you” resembles a saccharine gospel song on paper but is actually, perhaps knowingly, reminiscent of Let There be Love, a Noel Gallagher-written Oasis tune from 2005’s Don’t Believe the Truth. It’s curious that in 2011 when starting his own post-Oasis career, Noel Gallagher proposed he would release two records, one “back-to-basics”, the other an “experimental” record with Amorphous Androgynous. The second eventually got shelved in 2012. The level of success that the elder Gallagher sibling has experienced in contrast to Beady Eye is partly due to quality of his songs but also due to the simple fact that he gives the people what they want: Oasis, or the next best thing.
Different Gear… showed that Beady Eye could pass its MOT. On that record the group showed that perhaps they could step out of the shadow of Oasis and stand on their own. BE is a decent effort however it’s apparent that, no matter the collaborator, there’s not much fuel left in the tank.