Liam Gallagher John Squire Album Review

Liam Gallagher John Squire album

Britain in 2024 feels like a pretty dark place. Suffering from a cost-of-living crisis, a housing shortage, crumbling public services, potholes and a general sense that nothing works, the country seems as though it is on a downward trajectory. A new-found isolation from Europe, the climate crisis and the backdrop of war in Gaza and Ukraine add to the sense of unease and gloom.

All this is a far cry from the Britain of 1997, when John Squire's music was last seen troubling the charts (in the form of his Seahorses project), and Liam Gallagher's former band Oasis was at the height of its popularity.

Back then, the Iron Curtain was newly-fallen, Britannia was cool, peace was coming to Northern Ireland and things, apparently, could only get better.

That optimism is long gone.

However, with the release of the Liam Gallagher John Squire album, we essentially get to live in 1997 again for 40 minutes — and in this review I'm going to give you my take on what doing that is like.

But first, I'm going to take you back to an entirely different decade.

Finsbury Park, June 2013

In the summer of 2013 I went to see The Stone Roses play a reunion concert in Finsbury Park, London. I had got into the band in a big way in the 90s — but a couple of years after they'd broken up. So I'd never had the opportunity to see The Roses live, and I was hoping for something special.

And, while there were moments of greatness during the show — especially towards the end, with an exquisite performance of 'I Am The Resurrection' providing the crowd with a transcendental finale that was in its own right probably worth the price of admission — a lot of the gig was fairly shambolic.

Sadly Ian Brown was not on good form that night, singing so out of tune that the fans present, despite their best efforts, didn't know what key to sing along in. This led to a baffling (and faintly comic) sonic situation — an enduring memory I have of the concert is 'Ten Storey Love Song' being sung by the crowd in several keys.

Ian Brown during the Stone Roses reunion tour

Ian Brown. Photo by Sean Reynolds

Given Brown's reputation for regularly singing out of tune at live shows, I wasn't particularly surprised by all this. But I was still annoyed by it, as I felt that his bandmate John Squire's (often sublime) melodies were being badly let down.

Now to be fair to Brown, he always did an excellent job on the recorded versions of Stone Roses songs. His soft, sometimes half-whispered singing on classics like 'Waterfall' or 'Sugar Spun Sister' are absolutely key to the magic of their first album, The Stone Roses, as his is snarly approach to the Second Coming material. I love his voice on those albums.

But ultimately John Squire — as his forays into doing his own vocals on his 2000s albums highlighted — is a writer who needs, and more importantly deserves, a reliable singer. It became clear to me in Finsbury Park that summer evening in 2013 — and, I suspect, to many of the 74,999 other attendees of the gig — that Ian Brown wasn't that singer, and if John Squire was to write more songs, at this point it would be wiser to look elsewhere for a vocalist to interpret them.

11 years later it would appear he's found one: Liam Gallagher.

Boy, you're going to carry that tune

Liam Gallagher and John Squire. Photo by Tom Oxley

Love him or loathe him, there is absolutely no doubt that Gallagher can carry a tune reliably. His voice is instantly recognisable; his range is wide; and his commitment to whatever he's singing is unarguable.

And John Squire is clearly smitten with the quality of Gallagher's vocals, saying:

“Liam Gallagher is one of the all-time great rock and roll voices. I put him in the same class as Dylan, Lennon, Jagger and Rotten.”

Given the absolute legends that Squire mentions here and the derivative nature of much of Oasis' work, many will of course bristle at that statement.

But there's no doubt that Gallagher's voice is idiosyncratic, there's a huge amount of oomph in it and, when placed in the context of loud guitar music (which it usually is), it tends to do the material justice.

(Liam Gallagher's singing, in my view, forgave a multitude of Noel Gallagher songwriting sins — when in Oasis, somehow the junior sibling managed to bring a lot of very average tracks to life.)

In short, it's fair to say that Gallagher is in possession of one of the classic voices of British rock. And, while his musical output may not be up there with Dylan's or Lennon's, his voice is certainly as distinctive as theirs and is, in the UK at least, probably as familiar.

The songs

John Squire may be best known as a guitarist — and a superb one at that — but what's often overlooked is that his skills as a melodicist are just as strong (possibly even stronger).

Or as Liam Gallagher puts it:

“I think John’s a top songwriter. Everyone always bangs on about him as a guitarist, but he’s a top songwriter too, man, no two ways about it as far as I’m concerned...It’s good to see him back writing songs and fucking good ones. The melodies are mega and then the guitars are a given. But I think even when you take all the fucking guitars off, you can play the songs all on acoustic and they’ll all still blow your mind.” 

There's a lot of truth in this. Squire has a long history of writing ridiculously catchy tunes — and this melodicism didn't end with The Stone Roses.

His next project, The Seahorses' Do It Yourself album, while never perceived as being as cool or significant as his Roses work, nonetheless contained extraordinarily well-crafted, melodic songs, some of which — especially 'The Boy in the Picture' and 'Love Me and Leave Me' — wouldn't feel out of place on a late 1960s Beatles record.

The Beatles influence looms large on Liam Gallagher John Squire too, but this time we're talking more about 1965 / 66 Beatles than their 1969 incarnation — the album's got a much more Rubber Soul or Revolver vibe than an Abbey Road one.

(Nowhere is the 1966 vibe more apparent than on the guitar intro to 'I'm So Bored' — a thinly disguised version of the 'Paperback Writer' riff.)

Either way, Squire's knack for writing a catchy song has not disappeared on this release — the Liam Gallagher John Squire album is packed full of earworms. Even if you don't warm to the record, you will walk away from it humming its tunes. 'Raise Your Hands,' 'From Mars to Liverpool' and 'Love You Forever' are particularly hooky, but the album as a whole amounts to one big singalong. From a purely melodic perspective, there is rarely a dull moment.

The guitars

As for the guitar playing on the album, it is indeed, as Gallagher puts it, 'a given.' As ever with Squire, we're talking technical brilliance here — he's a musician's musician, and if you've ever played a guitar yourself you'll understand just how good he is within a few minutes of listening to this album. As with other material that Squire has performed on, Page and Hendrix make themselves known as obvious influences quite early on; but interestingly, George Harrison (a guitarist that I don't normally associate with Squire's work) is referenced quite a lot too.

Squire is arguably best-known for his epic solos, but his textural stuff is just as impressive — whether we're talking about his jangly arpeggiated guitar, super-tight rhythm or subtle wah wah licks, all his interventions sound superb and entirely appropriate to the track they appear on. Significantly, his melodicism is not restricted to his songwriting — on this album his tunefulness comes across just as strongly in all the guitar riffs and background licks as it does in the vocal lines.

The big difference between Squire's guitar work on this record and his last successful release (The Seahorses' Do It Yourself) is that it is significantly less 'busy.' While Seahorses frontman Chris Helme generally had to sing on top of constant and quite intricate guitar melodies, Liam Gallagher is given more space — a lot of the time he's singing against simpler rhythm guitar parts or more basic riffs.

For me, hearing John Squire play again after all these years was the most exciting aspect of listening to this album. I've been reflecting a lot lately on how whenever I go into public spaces like cafes or shops these days, I rarely hear the sound of guitars eminating from radios — for whatever reason, contemporary pop as made by the likes of Dua Lipa, Harry Styles et al. seems to mainly eschew them. Guitar-based rock seems to have become as rarefied a genre as jazz, so hearing Squire's wonderful playing on this record was a really refreshing — even moving — moment for me.

The lyrics

Song lyrics are often put in the same box as poetry — and if you were to look at the lyrics on this album in this way, you would conclude that an awful lot of bad poems had been written. Lines like "Take me down to the river / Take me down to the sea / Drink up your coffee / Drink up your tea" (from 'Mother Nature's Song') are not going to heighten John Squire's chances of being appointed Poet Laureate any time soon.

However — and in Squire's defence — it's important to understand that while lyrics can be poetic, they are not poetry, and it's not really fair to judge them as such. When you put a melody behind words, you imbue those words with a strange new meaning that transcends their literal one. Songs can get very clunky, and lose their impact, if you get too complicated (or poetic) with the phrases you choose to use.

Squire, being the seasoned songwriter that he is, is clearly aware of this trap, and on many occasions on this album, his focus on the ordinary actually works pretty well. The 'Raise Your Hands' and 'Love You Forever' tracks provide good case studies here — because of the way the phrases in these titles are deployed in their hook-laden choruses, these well-worn, fairly clichéd lines manage to end up sounding anthemic and even at times important.

But all that said, there's no denying that a lot of the lyrics of Liam Gallagher John Squire often stray into rather dubious territory. At one point we find Gallagher reduced to singing the colours of the rainbow.

(Which, to be fair, he does with aplomb. Given all the nonsensical lines written by his brother Noel that he's had to sing over the years, Liam Gallagher has had practice at injecting pathos into questionable lyrics — and is very good at it.)

The production

To make this album, Liam Gallagher and John Squire turned to Greg Kurstin, a well-known pop producer who's worked with a range of household name artists. His previous clients include Adele, Foo Fighters, Beck, McCartney and Gallagher himself.

Production-wise, Kurstin doesn't give us many surprises: the album sticks to a fairly simple, tried-and-tested indie rock formula. On most of the songs, we're talking about simple arrangements involving bass, drums, guitar and vocals. There's the occasional bit of piano, and the odd synth line here or there, but overall the record's instrumentation is based around the classic rock four-piece format. On the whole this traditional approach works, although it would have been interesting to hear an occasional deviation from it.

The drum parts on the album are particularly good. Seasoned session drummer Joey Waronker does an excellent job, deploying enjoyable intricacy where necessary (on 'Just Another Rainbow') and keeping it simple when it needs to be (for example on 'Raise Your Hands').

The main gripe I have with the production is that everything sounds very distorted. This is actually probably a post-production issue: it sounds as though, in a bid to get everything sounding very punchy and loud, the mastering engineer has compressed the living daylights out of it.

This loudness comes at a cost. Some of the songs sound incredibly squashed — almost like a tape cassette recording of an FM radio broadcast that's been copied onto another cassette (and then, perhaps, broadcast on FM radio again).

This focus on loudness at the expense of everything else is in line with how Oasis used to master their albums (they were notorious for doing this); Liam Gallagher's recent solo releases have suffered a bit from this too. 

The approach stands in marked contrast to how The Stone Roses and Seahorses records were mastered — with these, the 'squash everything' approach was not deployed, and consequently they boast a lot more clarity and dynamic range. On The Stone Roses, Second Coming and Do It Yourself, you can hear (and appreciate) the instrumentation a lot more; and you are much less likely to encounter a muddy bass line or a distorted kick drum that comes perilously close to sounding like a fart when the album is played loudly on car stereo.

This distortion is a shame because it takes away from the muscial performances on Liam Gallagher John Squire — which are great throughout.

Tonight I'm going to party like it's 1997

So what to make of the record? Well, it definitely contains two ingredients of a really strong album: great performances and terrific melodies.

It lacks light and shade, though. With the exception of the album's closer, 'Mother Nature's Song,' you're generally getting a wall of sound throughout (non-stop, in-your-face indie rock mastered really loud).

And the album falls down quite a lot when it comes to lyrical content: no amount of (commendable) welly injected by Liam Gallagher into the vocals can get this listener past lines about being disappointed by a missing pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

That's not to say that everything is bad on the lyrics front; there is wit in there as well as clichés. Where the clichés are deployed, they are accompanied by stonkingly good tunes — and often work in that context.

Ultimately, where the Liam Gallagher John Squire album really succeeds is in the way it drags us out of the present and back to what increasingly feels like a happier, more innocent time. It sounds so 1997, and for 40 minutes, it take us away from the gloom of 2024 and back to another era — one in which nobody was worrying about things like Putin, Trump, Brexit, Long Covid, Ukraine or temperatures going above a 1.5 degrees celsius threshold. A complacent era perhaps, but a more obviously fun one. 

And that's what this record is: fun. It's foot-stomping, loud, melodic fun. I feel all the better for encountering it.

Liam Gallagher John Squire is out now on Warner Records.

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About the author

Chris Singleton is the songwriter in Five Grand Stereo and a regular contributor to this blog. When not writing music — or about it — he edits a popular blog about ecommerce and web design, Style Factory.

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1 comment

An extremely well researched piece. Terrific to get an in-depth review from a musicians perspective. Also unusual from the world of rock journalism, an enjoyable read.

cormac Walsh

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