Sunday, June 19, 2022

Liam Gallagher – ‘C’mon You Know’: his best and most experimental solo album yet

“I’m quite happy with the formula,” Liam Gallagher shrugged back in February during his latest in a long line of NME cover interviews. “All these people that go out and do something different – good for them and all that, but if I like something, I just stick with it.”

It was typical Liam insouciance – after all, you don’t get to be one of the coolest, most enduring figures in British music for three decades by looking like you’re actually trying – and also a bit of a red herring. Because although the self-professed parka monkey’s (trust him to brilliantly reclaim the shade that Noel threw at his madferrit, guitar-loving fans) third solo record doesn’t exactly find him dabbling in hyper-rap or jetting off to a taqueria on the moon, it is easily the most interesting, experimental and varied album he’s put his own name to.

The first moments of ‘C’mon You Know’ stop you in your tracks until you realise that the children’s choir-led ‘More Power’ is mainly The Rolling Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ repurposed for the third Summer of Love. And yet: familiar but unexpected, glossily produced but charmingly homespun, naïve but calculated, this is the perfect way to open a Liam Gallagher album in 2022. “The cut, it never really heals / Just enough to stop the bleed,” the kids croon in falsetto over pristine acoustic guitar. “People talkin’ like they’re gods, but that’s just not the deal,” parries Liam in his typically, yes, insouciant sneer.

What does it mean? Who cares? This is pastiche at its very best, absorbing the memories of the song’s influences and also refracting the vulnerability and longing of the now. Or, in other words, it’s been a rough couple of years and we all wanna get off our mash together, and everyone likes The Rolling Stones. He doesn’t overthink things, Liam, and that’s why he’s still packing out stadiums and will soon perform to 160,000 people across two nights at Oasis’ old stomping ground, Knebworth Park.

He pulls a similar trick with ‘Better Days’, a trippy rocker that channels the spirit of The Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ in its clattering drum beat and swirling atmospherics. Rather than turn off your mind, relax and float downstream, though, LG wants you to light a flare, neck a pint and shake off your pandemic funk in the festival mud with your best mates, “all the sadness washed away in the rain”. It is a very tempting proposition.

‘C’mon You Know’ is a not a COVID record (“Fuck that shit – I don’t want to fucking hear about [the pandemic] ever again, do you know what I mean?” he mused in that NME interview) but it does ebb with a sense of freedom that will forever timestamp it in the summer that the world returned. At one point on the uplifting title track, because Liam Gallagher doesn’t really do subtlety, everything goes quiet before the tempo ramps back up and a gospel choir belts out: “Freedom!” And then there’s ‘Everything’s Electric’, the effervescent, Dave Grohl-featuring lead single, the kind of unifying, stadium-sized banger that seemed inconceivable from a Gallagher brother during their late-period Oasis era of mid-paced plodders.

While that song also summons the Stones – this time cribbing the “woo-woos” of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ – Liam experiments with less road-tested influences elsewhere. Take the moody ‘Moscow Rules’, co-penned by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, which is the most theatrical he’s ever sounded (think Fagin lamenting his lost fortune in a production of Oliver! set in Burnage). Meanwhile the opening riff of the fake news-skewering ‘I’m Free’ delivers the Stooges-style, “in-yer-face” punk he promised NME he’d explore in 2018, before unexpectedly segueing into a dubby breakdown that wouldn’t sound of place on an album by – dare we say it – Gorillaz. The slower numbers, such as the lighters-in-the-air ballad ‘Too Good For Giving Up’, are basically foil blankets for sweating out the weirder stuff.

His 2017 debut solo album, ‘As You Were’, had a clear task: to establish his epic comeback. Album two, 2019’s ‘Why Me? Why Not.’, was the glorious victory lap, the second pint that deepened the pleasure of the first. This third record is the sound of Liam with little to prove; it’s loose and relaxed, as evidenced by the Macca-style ad-libbed backing vocals of woozy closer ‘Oh Sweet Children’. And you don’t sing a lyric like “I had a girl, she gave me hell / In a flat in Camberwell”, as he does on the buzzing ‘Don’t Go Halfway’, unless you’re having a laugh.

At once experimental and familiar enough to keep his stunning second act on course, ‘C’mon You Know’ finds Liam Gallagher having his cake and eating it – and there’s plenty to go round at this party. If he doesn’t overthink it, why should you? Turn off your mind, relax and bring the cans.

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