With Dave Sitek at the controls, Beady Eye are bound for a bold new future. But do they have the ideas to stoke the engine?
The problem with Beady Eye is they were born with a point to prove – but only to their lead singer. The band’s debut album ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ matched or exceeded most people’s tempered expectations for it, but only Liam Gallagher ever seriously entertained the notion that they would become “bigger than Oasis”, and only Liam would have been surprised when Noel’s record outstripped their own, critically and commercially. Clearly, when you’ve spent all of your adult life in one of the biggest bands in the world, the indignity of being in Just Another One takes some getting used to.
In interviews, Liam’s defiance in the face of dissenting opinion has been replaced with out-of-character admissions about ‘DGSS’’s shortcomings and hints that he might call it a day if he’s “barking up the wrong tree” with its follow-up. The subtext seems to be that he doesn’t need to do this. He could happily retire to a life of designing desert boots and riding dogs around pubs until the inexorable Oasis reunion of 2018. Coming from a man who once claimed to be possessed by the spirit of John Lennon, however, we have to wonder: since when does he care which tree he’s barking up?
On their second album, Beady Eye have attempted to do what their old band never could: evolve. When it came to producers, Oasis hired craftsmen, not visionaries, because their comfort zone was exactly where their fans liked having them. Beady Eye, not having that luxury, have turned to TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, a sonic maverick who surely numbers among the least likely candidates for the task.
Sitek’s presence on ‘BE’ goes beyond mere stunt casting, and when the band fully submit to his whims the results are extraordinary. ‘Flick Of The Finger’, with its dreadnought horns and propulsive swagger, is the best thing they’ve ever recorded, and the glam-soul strut of ‘Second Bite Of The Apple’ isn’t far behind. Sitek is all over both, cranking the levers and steering them into the areas of the map marked Here Be No Beatles.
Yet while he adds much-needed texture and detail, Sitek is too often constrained by the material he’s given to work with. Once again Beady Eye have promised a balls-out rock’n’roll record, and once again they’ve delivered something top-heavy with sweet, slight acoustic whimsy. Much will be read into the lyrics to ‘Don’t Brother Me’, Liam’s passive-aggressive olive branch to you-know-who, which oscillates between gentle mockery, accusatory finger-pointing and grudging placation, but the music is dull, and bears an unwelcome resemblance to ‘Little James’. ‘Ballroom Figured’ and ‘Start Anew’, meanwhile, may be pleasant in their own right, but on a record that’s supposed to be about challenging themselves, they’re the sound of a band only pushing things as far as the first hurdle.
Shame, because the infrequent glimpses of what Beady Eye could be are tantalising. ‘Shine A Light’ is surprisingly effective, cheekily appropriating the riff to The Stooges’ ‘1969’ and refashioning it into a demented semi-acoustic raga, thick with menace and excessive piano breaks. ‘Iz Rite’ is more straightforward, a hippyish meditation on some unspecified cosmic bollocks which coasts along on sheer infectiousness. It also boasts what is by far the album’s best “SHEEEIIIINE” moment, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Is it enough? Well, just about. ‘BE’ is certainly an improvement on ‘Different Gear…’, but it’s more of a tentative step in the right direction than a great leap forward. There’s a sense Beady Eye are unwilling or unable to abandon the old fallbacks, and so you end up with a song like ‘I’m Just Saying’, which seems to pride itself on sounding like ‘Morning Glory’, ‘Hello’ and ‘The Swamp Song’ all at once. There’s a future for this band that needn’t end with reliving their past. They just have to want it.