David Pollock explores the question on everyone's lips heading into the new year
Even long-term viewers of the long-running British soap opera called 'Oasis' might be concerned about the believability of the plot twist in this year's Christmas episode. After reinvigorating the series with a series of dark but headline-grabbing twists throughout the year – from one lead character's accusation that his brother should have cancelled his holiday to play a reunion concert for terror victims in Manchester, to the other's insistence that his brother needs help and has legitimised online bullying of his family – the revelation that the pair have apparently met under a flag of Christmas truce surely seemed beyond the pale for most viewers.
Anyone would think those involved had albums to sell (which they both did; the best each has been involved with in a number of years, but let's not get distracted by the music just yet). Or that websites had online traffic to hoover up by reporting every last titbit of information. Or, perhaps most pertinently of all, that Liam Gallagher should put down the phone and stop getting so worked up on social media. But in 2017, who among us can't say the same? Most of the nation is out there picking e-fights with strangers about Brexit or Bake-Off in their tea break, and precious few of them are millionaires twiddling their thumbs in the absence of a band they'd dearly love to reform.
These are changed times, and where two decades ago, Oasis had to rope in soft southern Essex aristos Blur to play out a confected display of class divide politics for the media, now they're capable of doing it between themselves. Oddly, there's a very convincing argument that the band – even in their currently divided state, as they have been since 2009 – are the most relevant pop act in Britain, which is something nobody has been able to say about them for at least twenty years. Because, just like the UK in 2017, the Gallaghers are petty, divided, spoiling for an argument, and frustratingly capable of revisiting old greatness when they stop bickering.
In the red corner stands 45-year-old Liam, fists raised and clutching his phone to do battle. A prolific – VERY prolific – user of Twitter, he was the one who made an elder statesmanlike appearance at Ariana Grande's One Love Manchester concert, singing Oasis classics and duetting with Coldplay's Chris Martin. He turned up on Celebrity Gogglebox with his mum and his son in aid of charity; he converses freely with the fans online; he made another charitable appearance at Sleep in the Park in Edinburgh.
He's a man of the people, a Manchester lad who hasn't forgotten where he's from, the third most successful album artist of 2017 in the UK (behind Ed Sheeran and Rag 'n' Bone Man) with a debut solo album which defiantly gets back to Oasis' roots – that is, singing lyrics which make little sense and daring anyone to care, so much charismatic attitude are they laced with. Young music fans love him and they buy his records; how could As You Were have been so successful if they didn't? He is rock music's Jeremy Corbyn.
Opposite him in the blue corner, Noel Gallagher. Fifty-year-old Noel Gallagher. There are only five years between them, but that five at the beginning of his age says he's definitely someone's dad and he might as well be their granddad. He might as well be Jools Holland, in fact. Noel doesn't 'do' social media, so his interactions with his brother come in the form of irascible 'what has he been saying now?!'-type press appearances, in which he'd clearly hoped to talk about other things, but you just know the subject is always going to come back round to the elephant in the room.
He is rock's Theresa May, right down to the obsession with shoes, and Liam is his Brexit. Or possibly the time Noel innocently said he was sick of people going on about Brexit and that they should just get on with it, to be greeted by Nigel Farage calling him a 'lad', was his Brexit (although Noel was a Remain-leaner who apparently didn't vote in the end). Anyway, he can't be rock's Jeremy Corbyn, because he said to Paste magazine back in November, 'Fuck Jeremy Corbyn. He's a Communist.'
So Liam is the voice of the people and lifelong Labour voter Noel is actually a big Tory in disguise, Liam wins, The End, right? If only life were as simple as a ferociously monochrome argument played out through social media and divided by arbitrary perceptions of those involved's political leanings to prove whichever point the person arguing wants to make that day – which it seems to be more and more, of course, in which case God help us all. It's true that Liam has the voice, the face and the attitude, but his sound is a slickly-reproduced take on bygone Oasis, without ever really catching the essence of that band's greatness, where they managed it themselves (look towards the years 1994 to 1996 for the evidence that this happened).
No more highly-rated a critic than Noel himself – who isn't averse to getting involved where public spats are concerned – had his own take on the songwriting-by-committee aspect of Liam's record: 'If (songwriter) Greg Kurstin ever needs me to teach him how to write a fucking song, he should give me a call, because what I've heard is embarrassing.' Kurstin, who wrote and produced Adele's 'Hello' and the Foo Fighters' last album, surely has better things to do than respond, even in the face of Noel's provocation that Liam now sounds like 'Adele shouting into a bucket.'
Yet to anyone who grew up with Oasis and still feels a burst of empathy with their teenage self whenever the band's remnants appear, it's clear that Noel's Who Built the Moon? Is where Oasis' legacy really lives, with its conservative (with a small 'c') psychedelia, its guest appearances from Paul Weller and Johnny Marr, and its newfound sense of unselfconscious joy. Namely the cheesily wonderful 'Holy Mountain', which found itself compared to Ricky Martin, yet was easily one of the three best songs any member of Oasis has been involved with this century. Noel was where the nuance in Oasis lay, the sense that cynicism doesn't equal misanthropy, that attitude is a vain pose unless it's backed up with humour.
Who Built the Moon?, his third album with his High Flying Birds, is a quiet triumph reminiscent of Weller's own Wild Wood and Stanley Road in the 1990s, the resurgence of a middle-aged artist comfortable with their age and position, and still keen to express themselves. While Liam is happier to retread old ground without the safety net of his own record label offering him complete freedom, as Noel has, his clear enthusiasm for what he does is encouraging to see, and his tweets from the other day suggesting that he and Noel have 'reached out' and are 'all good again' point to the kind of reconciliation we could all do with a bit of in 2018.
Or as Noel put it in that Paste interview, 'maybe (Liam) should take a deep breath before he presses the 'send' button on his Twitter account next time? I always try to make everything the best that it can be. My glass is always half full. Always. The only bad thing about the world is the people.' Amen, and Merry Christmas to you too!
As You Were by Liam Gallagher is out now on Warner Bros; he plays TRNSMT, Glasgow, Sat 30 Jun. Who Built the Moon? by Noel Gallagher is out now on Sour Mash; he plays the Hydro, Glasgow, Tue 24 Apr.