When main songwriter/guitarist Noel Gallagher quit Britpop icons Oasis in August 2009 after a backstage brawl with brother/band mate/sparring partner Liam, the future seemed very uncertain for the rest of the band.
Not content to allow Noel to win the epic long-standing brother battle, Liam Gallagher immediately formed a new band with the rest of the group: Gem Archer (guitar, piano, bass), Andy Bell (bass, guitar), and Chris Sharrock (drums).
Obviously, this new project was definitively NOT Oasis, since Noel’s guitar work and melodies would be absent.
Instead, this new project was given the name Beady Eye, and Liam and the gang began working on a debut record.
That album, Different Gear, Still Speeding, was released today in Europe and tomorrow stateside, and listening to it one can’t help but think that it was just a little bit rushed.
It isn’t too far-fetched to imagine that Liam tried his damndest to make sure this came out before any Noel solo material, as if that would automatically christen him “top Gallagher”. Noel, indeed, hasn’t released any solo work as of yet, but he is reportedly hard at work on various new musical endeavors.
In short, Different Gear, Still Speeding is exactly what one would expect it to be: simplistic Britpop, without anything as memorable or urgent as some of the best Oasis songs. There’s no Wonderwall, Live Forever, Champagne Supernova or Supersonic on this record. Thankfully, though, this isn’t a collection of thirteen The Meaning of Soul clones, either. While Beady Eye don't really distance themselves much from the Oasis style, the album still somehow manages to be better than expected.
Album opener Four Letter Word starts things off with a bang, charging drums and an orchestral flourish building to a bouncy rhythm that includes Liam’s trademark nasal vocals delivering the line Sleepwalk away the life/If that turns you on/It’s only a moment/Look away and it’s gone. Perhaps a dig at Noel’s departure from Oasis? It’s more than possible.
It sounds like a classic late-career Oasis album opener, and Liam sounds even more snarly and pissy than usual. In all, it’s a solid start to the album.
Millionaire, with its slide guitar and bluesy feel, changes the vibe presented by the opening track, seemingly Beady Eye’s attempt to say “Hey, we don’t need Noel to switch things up a bit!”, even if the chorus isn’t as memorable as it seems to think it is. Nice guitars, though.
The Roller was the first single released by the band, and it doesn’t do much to distance itself from the tried-and-true Oasis sound. Piano plucks drive the song and its steady rhythm, which does boast a strong chorus. Liam’s again at his whiny best, something fans (and non-fans) grew to love (or hate) about him. There’s a nice guitar bridge which switches things up, too.
This isn’t an Oasis record, technically, but it still has plenty of the same type of heavy handed Beatles homages that were prevalent on so many Oasis records.
The obviously titled Beatles and Stones, for one, manages to namedrop both classic UK Invasion bands while musically sounding exactly like The Who’s My Generation. It’s one of the more throwaway tracks on the album, but at least it seems to be self-aware.
A lot of the other tracks on the record have a familiar feeling to them, as if they’ve been heard before: Wind Up Dream has a grimy sleaze to it, Liam’s layered vocals matching up with a lazy riff nicely. As with most of the songs here, though, it fails to really go anywhere.
The same can be said for Bring the Light, which is nothing if not energetic, thanks to its piano-pounding melody and Liam repeating “Baby come on!” over and over.
For Anyone is the requisite mid-album jangly acoustic tune, Liam doing some Beatles-ish crooning over a cacophony of acoustic guitar picking.
Surprisingly, though, the album picks up a bit with Kill For a Dream. Starting out with Liam talking about forgiving and being “here if you want to call”, which again might be a not-so-veiled call to Noel to make amends for the 756th time, the song might actually be considered memorable. Squeally, oh-so-British rock guitar riffs accentuate the verses, Liam’s voice full of whimsy and what almost seems like a hurt sincerity.
Wigwam continues the upward trend, another midtempo tune utilizing keyboards to accentuate Liam’s echo-y vocals. Aesthetically pleasing, the song manages to almost get to “memorable” status, even though it too fails to really have that “wow” factor that the melodies in some of the best Oasis tunes had.
Three Ring Circus is a snotty boot-stomping affair, Liam again snarling his way through the verses to the sweeping chorus, which finds him drawing out the title phrase in a slow delivery that gives way to the requisite mid-song guitar solo. The tune manages to be one of the more memorable on the album.
The Beat Goes On and The Morning Sun close out the affair, with the last track in particular managing to be pretty dreamy, thanks to Liam’s echoed vocals and the acoustic strumming.
In all, Different Gear, Still Speeding does manage to be a bit better than expected. Rather than copping the sound of most Liam-penned Oasis songs, Beady Eye are apparently capable of crafting some worthwhile tunes, although there is definitely some filler.
There really wasn't anywhere else this album could have gone, considering the band's personnel. Had they created something distinctly anti-Oasis, it would have been jarring, but of course they chose not to go down that path.
The album is also absolutely nowhere near close to being “better than Definitely Maybe” (sorry, Liam), but it is good at being exactly what it is: a post breakup record, of sorts, with Liam and the rest of the band assuming the “jilted former lover” position, making sure to assert their independence where due. However, despite some of this independence that the songs call for, they also make it seem as if the proverbial door is open for Noel to return. That’s what any Oasis fan would want, for Noel to rejoin the band and the Oasis name to be whole again.
Given the history of the Gallagher brothers, that isn't too outlandish of an idea, as it almost seems inevitable that Oasis will be one again at some point.
In the meantime, we'll have to deal with Beady Eye records and whatever projects Noel decides to spend time with.
In closing, it’s not surprising that this album isn’t as good as most Oasis albums.
What is surprising, though, is that it also isn’t as bad as most people probably would have expected it to be.