“Motherfucking rock ‘n’ roll stars, wake the fuck up,” Noisey wrote upon the release of “Wall of Glass,” the opening track on solo debut, As You Were. And they weren’t alone in their enthusiasm: Liam Gallagher, one of the most legendary lead singers in modern rock history, was back and seemingly better than ever. Everything about “Wall of Glass” felt massive, from the distorted harmonica riff to the younger Gallagher’s soaring vocals throughout. He had something to prove, especially following Oasis’ 2009 breakup and the relative lack of interest in his subsequent band, Beady Eye—not to mention the very public demise of his marriage and personal life—and he absolutely delivered.
For the first time in Gallagher’s life, he was the underdog, fighting to reclaim his former fame and glory. The eventual album, As You Were, was the third-fastest selling album in the U.K. that year, out-selling the rest of the top 10 combined the week it was released. Tracks like “Bold” and “For What It’s Worth” were personal and anthemic, and, suddenly, he was back to selling out some of the biggest venues in the world, making a triumphant return to Glastonbury and riding one of the most impressive press cycles in recent memory.
Now that he proved all of his doubters wrong in 2017, what does he have to prove in 2019? Not as much, apparently.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of good—and bad—on Why Me? Why Not., but it feels like just another album, a second term, an excuse to get back out on the road and not much else. The thrill of seeing Liam at the height of his powers once again has worn off, and we’re left with an album eerily similar to the one he already released. There are more strings this time around, and the record does feel a bit fuller and more heartfelt at times, but none of it really feels that new.
Take the aforementioned lead single and Why Me? Why Not. lead track, “Shockwave,” for instance. “Brace yourself world, it’s about to blow your mind / It’s coming ‘round like a shockwave,” Liam Gallagher sings on the chorus, But it may as well describe the impact of “Wall of Glass,” the former Oasis frontman’s debut solo single from 2017. It features a similar blues-rock swagger as “Wall of Glass” without as much of the me-against-the-world feel. It follows a similar song structure without reaching the same heights. It’s a good song while its predecessor was great.
And the rest of the album follows suit. There aren’t very many new ideas here: Strings-backed melodramatic “Once,” for example, recalls “Paper Crown,” while the piano-based “Halo,” more than resembles Beady Eye’s “Bring the Light,” but with less energy. The cliché classic rock references are out in full force yet again (“But you had to paint the whole thing black” on “Shockwave” and “You’ve got me kissing the sky” from the title track) and elsewhere, the lyrics aren’t too impressive either: “Well come on you weakened knees / Afraid of the thought police / You who say your generation is forsaken / Get out of your clouds of weed / Get out of your time machines / You can say that the sleeper has awakened,” he dispassionately sings on “The River.”
But Why Me? Why Not. largely succeeds when Gallagher allows himself to dig deep into his past and get a bit personal. “One of Us” references his early music career while the stunning, Beatles-esque ballad “Once” sees him mine his early childhood. When he sings “But oh I remember how you used to shine back then / You went down so easy like a glass of wine my friend” as an orchestra swells behind him, it’s believable, much more so than his overly simplistic political commentary on other songs. Liam rarely allows himself to shed his tough-guy persona in interviews, and this is maybe the most sincere we’ve ever seen him.
The youngest Gallagher doesn’t seem like he’s remotely interested in changing things up this time around. Why Me? Why Not. is a soaring classic rock-indebted record, one full of hooks, huge choruses, guitar solos and string builds. It helps having two of the most important songwriters of the decade in tow: Greg Kurstin (Sia, Adele, Maggie Rogers) and Andrew Wyatt (Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Beck).
It’s easy to sing along to, and no doubt tens of thousands of fans across the world are getting their vocal chords ready for whenever he hits their local theater or arena. In that way, these songs more than fulfill their purpose: This is a rock record ready for stadiums and festival main stages. But this time, he doesn’t have to work his way back to superstardom—and it shows.