Fame is seldom more of a double-edged sword than when you’re trying to sneak your way around it. Such is the dilemma faced by Beady Eye, the band that was created when the chronically fractious relationship between Oasis’s battling siblings Liam and Noel Gallagher finally imploded for good in 2009. Beady Eye is basically Oasis minus frontman Liam, and try as they might, it seems highly unlikely that they’ll be viewed otherwise. On some level, that’s fair. Noel was, after all, the main songwriter in Oasis, and beyond coming up with a different name—which was probably a legal necessity—he hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to distance himself from that legacy, continuing on with the same musicians and remaining in the same general Britpop bag. He’s even abandoned the guitar so he can stand out front, bent over at the waist, with his hands behind his back a la Liam.
On the other hand— the one that’s held out in a futile attempt to stop the British press’s ludicrous comparisons between Beady Eye’s debut, Different Gear, Still Speeding, and early Oasis—this is not Oasis, anymore than, say, New Order was Joy Division after Ian Curtis departed this mortal vale. The one thing both Gallagher brothers might conceivably agree on is the fact that Oasis can’t exist without both of them. And while few new indie bands—Different Gear is out on the band’s own label in the UK and the small Dangerbird imprint stateside—without Beady Eye’s pedigree would get as much attention, even fewer would face as many lofty expectations and harsh comparisons.
Whichever side of the question you come down on, in the end there’s really only one salient question to be asked: What does the album sound like? Well, it should surprise no one on either side to learn that it’s no Definitely Maybe or (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, but it’s also considerably more fun than Oasis’s swan song, Dig Out Your Soul, and on its own merits it’s not half bad. Without the Oasis name hanging over his head—in theory, at least—it’s possible for Noel to leave some of the baggage behind. He no longer sounds like he’s trying to maintain the title of England’s Greatest Band; when he sings “I just wanna rock & roll” on “Beatles & Stones” (ironically one of the album’s least Beatlesque tracks), it’s easy to believe him. While there are plenty of undeniable Oasis touches here and there, Different Gear feels lighter, capable of achieving higher velocity with less fuel intake; in other words, the rockers have some roll to them for a change, and it seems like Noel and company are actually having fun.
The pop hooks that have always been a mainstay of Gallagher’s trickbag get more breathing room as well. Steve Lilywhite’s work here serves as a reminder that the super-producer was at the helm of The La’s legendary debut album, widely regarded as one of the greatest power-pop records of the ‘90s, not to mention later releases by similarly sparkling popsters such as Crowded House and Guster. “For Anyone” is a perfect, breezy, two-minute pop gem that would have been right at home on The La’s lone album, while “Kill For a Dream” could have found it’s own room in a Crowded House. That said, Different Gear is no slamdunk; the Beatles reference points that pop up throughout the album seem almost obligatory at this point, while the glam-rock side of Noel’s influences bears less fruit than his poppier inspirations. And while a fair amount of Oasis-esque fat has been trimmed away, the tendency to repeat the chorus ad infinitum at the end of a song remains an annoying habit.
All in all, though, there’s more to be said for the album than many are likely to admit. In terms of Different Gear’s eventual reception, the US never really got the Gallaghers to begin with, so it’s unlikely that they’ll start now, and the three singles released in advance of the album in the UK didn’t exactly set the charts aflame. If England’s uncertain response thus far is an honest reaction to the music itself, that’s one thing; if it’s born of an insistence upon Beady Eye living up to past glories that even Oasis itself could no longer manage, then Noel—for perhaps the first time in his high-flying career— is being shortchanged.