One person, however, was not so enamored: Liam. He sent out a tweet the day prior to his near one-million followers that read “just coz you have a SAXAPHONE on your new record and you think your all Pink Floyd [sic],” which, roughly translated, means he didn’t like it.
“Tell him, from me, it’s spelled ‘s-a-x-o-p-h-o-n-e,’” Noel says, leaning forward for emphasis. Liam isn’t much of a stickler for grammar on his Twitter feed, which is mostly reserved for tangents on football, cryptic phrases (“SROTS HEAVEN,” “BLUE SMACK” are two choice ones) and, yes, many-not-too disguised shots at his brother. In his profile picture, he’s even wearing a helmet and making a fighting scowl. Written on the front? “Peace.” Fists up.
“He needs to spell the fucking word correctly,” Noel says, delivered as if he’s a teacher reviewing the work of one particularly defiant student. “He used the Neanderthal’s term. So there you go.” He takes a sip of water and gives a little shrug with his eyebrow. Next question?
Noel’s social media, these days, is reserved for business, not brother-bashing – promoting Chasing Yesterday, appearances on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (which he played last night) and links to Reddit sessions. It’s a pretty organized machine to Liam’s rather undecipherable world, but that’s probably because it’s always been that way, even when Noel was strung out on drugs and alcohol, fighting off involuntary hallucinations. As Oasis’ songwriter, he held the real reins to their success, even though Liam’s antics and furry-coat-loving frontman status grabbed much of the attention – and offered a nasal, thickly British singing voice that snuggled in comfortably with, and helped define, the emerging Britpop sound.
In their heyday, Oasis was known for trashing hotel rooms, fistfights and those decadent cocaine binges – an extreme life to match their extreme success. Noel gave up the strong stuff years ago, though he still drinks, but things are a little calmer at the home he shares in central London with his wife and children. Sometimes he rides the tube, unnoticed. Other times, he gets a knowing glance, or, worse, someone who mistakes him for his brother.
There are no hints of Liam anywhere on Chasing Yesterday, his beautiful second solo LP, and his first to self-produce. But why would there be? Noel was the creative machine behind the band; writing and composing their entire catalogue save for a few tracks here and there in the later years. The lyrics didn’t always make sense (“a bit clunky, or even trite,” he admits) – and anyone who’s tried to explain “slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball” from “Champagne Supernova” will tell you a completely different meaning from another, or just shrug. But that didn’t matter – he could hitch it all on a killer melody that made so many of his compositions permanent anthems in the universal songbook.
“There are two main reasons I love Noel’s songs; first, a lot of them sound so effortless, like they just poured through him,” says Coldplay’s Chris Martin. “I don’t think songs like ‘Live Forever’ or ‘Champagne Supernova’ can really be written so much as channeled. The human skill part of it lies in knowing what to do with songs like those when they arrive, and Noel has those gifts too. The second reason I love his writing is that his songs inspire so many people to start playing and connecting to music, and make so many great campfire type moments. The best Oasis and Noel songs are really easy to play. There was a time in the late ’90s where it seemed like almost every person in Britain could play ‘Wonderwall,’ and people were sitting around singing together. Only a few amazing writers have songs that are at once so magical in their melody and meaning, and at the same time so simple to learn and easy to connect with.”
Martin’s right – there’s an undeniable magic in those strums, the best of which have come to him somewhat casually, rather than in fits of boasted brilliance. One of Oasis’ most iconic songs, “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” was written in 1994 at a hotel in Paris – Noel jotted it down, then didn’t think anything of it for months.
“If I had known then what I know now, that the song would have lived for 25 years in the public consciousness, I would never have finished it,” he says. “I would have bled over it. People have it at weddings and funerals, and I’ll be singing it some nights and think, ‘I don’t even fucking know what its about.’ You know what I mean? That song, if indeed anyone thinks it’s a great song, is only great because of the people. Not because of anything I did.”