Album review: Liam Gallagher, “MTV Unplugged (Live At Hull City Hall)”

“LEEE-UUHM! LEE-UUHM!” hollers the distinctively male-voiced crowd in between songs on this album, recorded live in Hull back in August 2019. It’s uncomfortably reminiscent of football chants, with all their implicit macho aggression. There’s no denying that the world of Oasis fandom is a testosterone-fuelled place, full of bravado and beer and shouting. And as Noel wanders off into ever more esoteric, non-Oasis-like tunes, it seems as though it’s only at a Liam concert that you will find the levels of unreconstructed masculine posturing that I encountered at my one and only Oasis gig, nearly twenty years ago.

And yet, to focus on the boys-only atmosphere of the crowd is to do Liam a disservice. Said posturing and swagger may remain intact – only Liam could make “It’s lovely to be in Hull!” sound like a threat – but his music is often much more sensitive, with a yearning for love and connection that belies the sexist, woman-baiting oaf I saw at Wembley Stadium back in 2000.

That the sneery rasp of his voice remains unchanged is evidenced from the moment he launches into the opening song, the defiant “Wall Of Glass”. But in the less rocky and more orchestral setting of MTV Unplugged, the sensitivity in songs like “Now That I’ve Found You” and “One Of Us” is amplified, with their emotional underpinning laid bare. The former, a sincere plea to his formerly estranged daughter Molly to stay in his life, combines a stirring melodic line with an engaging sense of vulnerability. And the latter entreats his brother Noel to mend the feud between them with a tune as strident and affecting as anything Noel wrote himself in their glory days.

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s the Liam solo songs that stand out most brightly here. Oasis classics like “Some Might Say”, “Stand By Me” and even the almighty “Champagne Supernova” are let down by their simplistic construction, plodding along pleasantly but feeling a little like nursery songs in comparison to newer Liam tracks such as “Once” and “Gone”. The rarely performed “Sad Song” fares better, with its pervasive air of melancholy and resignation emphasised by the deftly woven acoustic guitar lines and lush strings.

Best by far of all the Oasis songs here is “Cast No Shadow”, always a resoundingly beautiful song, which takes the lack of complexity typical to Oasis songs and makes it a strength. This interpretation, weaving the simple, repeated melodic lines around a lush orchestral backing, emphasises the divine sadness of the tune (on first hearing it in 1995, I described it as ‘so wonderfully sad it’s basically weeping set to music’). And yet there are accents here, such as the brief burst of stressed chords before the chorus, or the way Liam alters the tune at the word ‘pride’ to make it rise not fall, that make this surprisingly a more forceful and compelling rendition than that on record.

On reviewing “Once” back in February, I criticised Liam for wallowing in a past sound instead of striding into the now with fresh ideas. Your youth only happens once, it’s true, but I argued that the same applies to 2020, and we have the obligation to make the present just as wonderful as the mid-90s this song seemed to be yearning for. The world feels very different now, of course, and no matter how many fresh ideas a person may have, they’re all on hold right now, reserved for some nebulous, ever-changing future moment when our promised normality will resume.

So an album like this can be both a comfort and a source of strength: a reminder of our youth, certainly, but also of a past so recent it feels like we should be able to reach back and touch it, and grab a moment of those now forbidden things: standing in a crowd of people, reveling in the music you love along with the person who created it. With this album, Liam lets us do just that, and right now, I love him for it. And as the album has just crashed in at number one, it seems many others do too.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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