Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beady Eye: Different Gear, Still Speeding

Originally published by PopMatters on March 4, 2011

People really seem to want Beady Eye to fail. Between the two Oasis-era Gallaghers, Liam generally gets the lion’s share of the scorn; they’re both acerbic jerks, but Noel’s sense of humor is maybe a little easier to read. Liam, on the other hand, comes off like he truly believes it when he says things like his new band’s debut, Different Gear, Still Speeding, is “as good as (Oasis debut) Definitely Maybe, if not better.”

First things first: Different Gear, Still Speeding is hardly a disaster, and is, in fact, a mostly enjoyable rock & roll record. It’s also nowhere near as explosive and dynamic as Definitely Maybe, but how could it possibly have been? On the other hand, it is certainly better than a couple of other Oasis albums.

Yeah, people questioned whether or not these guys could even write a passable tune with Oasis’ principal songwriter, Noel Gallagher, sitting on a big pile of money in his mansion as far away from the action as he could possibly get. The thing is, Liam was coming along rather nicely as a songwriter himself before Oasis imploded; one of the band’s best latter-era singles, “I’m Outta Time”, was written by Liam. And, you know, Andy Bell isn’t any slouch either, even if his Hurricane #1 material was Oasis Lite. He was in Ride, for crying out loud. Plus, Gem Archer rounds out the Beady Eye songwriting triumvirate, and he’s got his shit fairly well together. It also doesn’t hurt that producer Steve Lillywhite has a knack for knowing when to go big and when to pull back.

Which brings us to the first salvo from Beady Eye, “Bring the Light”. Released last November, the song has been generously compared to Jerry Lee Lewis and the Rolling Stones yet was really kind of a plodding bore. As an introduction, it failed spectacularly to live up to the hype. Fortunately, things picked up from there, with the band dropping the album’s opening track, “Four Letter Word”, in late December. I guess it’s a statement when the lasting impression is the repeated line “Nothing ever lasts forever”, but it doesn’t hurt that the song is also a monster, an avalanche of drums and strings and filthy guitars and super-snotty attitude.

“The Roller”, the first official single off the album, is also splendid, a choice cut of mid-tempo Beatles-esque fun, and while cut from the same cloth, “The Beat Goes On” is also good enough that its familiarity doesn’t really matter.

There are also some weak moments in addition to “Bring the Light”: “For Anyone” is fairly inauspicious ‘70s touchy-feely singer-songwriter fare, and “Millionaire” sounds more like the Charlatans than the Charlatans themselves have sounded in ages. “Standing on the Edge of Noise” is the sort of clumsy rawk the Beach Boys used to pad their early ‘70s albums with, only way noisier. It’s like “Student Demonstration Time,” only with marginally better lyrics.

But what people really want to know is if it sounds like Oasis. Of course it does. How could it not? After all, Oasis itself was a completely different animal when it ended from when it began, with only the Gallagher brothers remaining from its original lineup, and it carried on sounding like Oasis as it shed member after member. Plus, even though Beady Eye sometimes throws in pianos or sassy female backing vocals, the influences are essentially the same. There’s even a (rather good) song called “Beatles and Stones”, let ye forget where these fellows are coming from.

Beady Eye may have bitten off more than they can chew because, at 13 songs, Different Gear, Still Speeding really sags in the middle, with the least successful numbers all coming in succession. Thankfully, it picks up for the duration with “Wigwam,” a psych-rock spread with Simon & Garfunkel vocals and a dense, hazy production.

It opens and closes brilliantly, and hits its rhythm here and there, though Different Gear, Still Speeding is not without its faults. But it manages excess and grandeur far more gracefully than Oasis’ own overblown collection, Be Here Now. It’s also better than anyone shy of Liam Gallagher himself would have believed possible.

7 out of 10