The Math on Beady Eye

Liam Gallagher, Webster Hall, NYC (photo: Live4ever)

Liam Gallagher, Webster Hall, NYC (photo: Paul Bachmann)

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already familiar with the story behind the formation of Beady Eye. If you’re not, here’s the short, short version: in the Fall of 2009 the Oasis brothers, Noel and Liam Gallagher, get into a heated argument, which may or may not have involved the destruction of one or more musical instruments, Noel quits the band, Liam and the other band members decide to carry on. Fast forward to the spring of 2011 when what essentially boils down to Oasis minus Noel Gallagher drop their debut album, Different Gear, Still Speeding, under the new moniker Beady Eye.

Bands’ breaking up or swapping members is a pretty common occurrence in the world of rock and roll. Well I’ll be damned in Chuck Klosterman didn’t just address this very issue in a recent article “Rock VORP” , which was brought to my attention by my buddy Pete, or Petie Pie, as he’s affectionately known. Klosterman, a hell of a writer on pop culture topics, seeks to apply advanced baseball metrics, commonly known as SABERmetrics to rock bands. The article’s entirely tongue in cheek and funny as shit to boot. For those of you who don’t speak nerd, Sabermetricians try to analyze the game of baseball by using math to quantify the value of different players. Most people in the states, I’m sure, are familiar with traditional baseball statistics like batting average and earned run average and maybe even a few of the less common ones like on base and slugging percentage. SABERmetrics, however, goes far beyond traditional stats and uses mathematical formulas to analyze player performance in statistical categories with exotic names like OPS, PECOTA and VORP, which gives Klosterman his title and stands for “Value Over Replacement Player.” The statistic is measured by comparing the performance of an individual player relative to other players on his team and to other players who play the same position on other teams and… this isn’t helping, is it? Oh hell, go ahead and read the articles yourselves, I’ll wait.

Ok. You’re back. Well, if you’re as a big of a baseball stat nerd and music nerd as I am, Klosterman’s article is like the nexus of nerdy awesomeness. The only way it could have been better for me is if he had somehow managed to shoehorn into his article mention of that episode of the original Star Trek series in which the crew of the Enterprise lands on a planet whose culture was influenced by the Roman empire. Advanced baseball metrics, music, sci fi and ancient history. Serious nerdgasm alert. Ahem… sorry, had to go change my underwear.

In any case, back to Klosterman. While the article applies his adaptation of VORP to the specific case study of Albert Hammond Jr. and his value to the Strokes, I think it would be rather interesting to look at the Oasis split through Klosterman’s metrics and try to figure out just how big of a loss Noel Gallagher’s departure might be for the guys in Beady Eye. I think it’s difficult to underestimate the importance of Noel Gallagher to Oasis. Let’s face the facts here, if it’s a good Oasis song, it’s a pretty safe bet that it was written by Noel Gallagher. If it’s a not so good Oasis song, the author is probably not named Noel Gallagher. Not that there aren’t good Oasis songs written by the others, but do you want to compare the greatness of, say, “Don’t Look Back In Anger” to “Songbird.” It’s not even close. But let’s see what the numbers say:

First up is the base stat ROCK VORM, in which a possible 100 points in 6 different categories are distributed among all members of a band. 40 points are distributed based upon songwriting. Thanks to Wikipedia, which has a page that lists all the songs in the Oasis catalog and the songs’ authors, we can see just how many songs Noel and the other guys were responsible for. The site lists 128 original Oasis songs which have appeared on an official release. Of these 128 songs Noel is listed as sole author of 98 of them and co-author of an additional 5. So he’s had a hand in around 80% of the songs that Oasis has released. So he should get at least 32 out of the 40 possible points in the song writing category. Ah, but wait. Wikipedia also shows that Oasis have had 23 Top 10 Hits in the UK. Of those 23, all but one, “Songbird”, were written by Noel. So let’s throw him another 7 points for the quality and commercial success of the music he wrote for the band. That brings his total to 39 points in the Songwriting category, which seems fair to me. And it’s my fucking article, so if you disagree, go write your own fucking article. We’ll give Liam the other point for penning a hit, and stiff the other guys since their contributions were mostly album filler.

Noel Gallagher performs with Oasis at Madison Sqaure Garden, 2008[The second category is Sonic Contribution, which has 20 points to be distributed among band members based upon how integral a band member is to the sound of the band. Looking at the changes in Oasis’ lineup throughout the band’s history, Oasis has had 2 guys playing rhythm guitar, 2 guys playing bass, and 4 different drummers. The two constants had always been the Gallagher brothers. And despite the lineup changes, Oasis always sounded like Oasis. I think it’s fair then to split the 20 points between Liam and Noel. I find it difficult to come up with a suitable distribution in this category. While the songwriting is clearly a category that favors Noel, I don’t want to undervalue just how distinctive and integral to Oasis’s sound Liam’s vocals really are. No other singer in rock n roll sounds like him. But Noel also sings a bunch of songs and his guitar playing also contributes greatly to the sound of the band (not to mention his role on the production side). With a great deal of hesitation, then, I say Liam should get 11.5 of the points and Noel 8.5. Yeah, I know. I’m not happy with this either.

The third category is Visual Impact which has 10 points. Say what you will about Oasis, but one thing that can’t be denied is that they had style. The band’s choice of retro influenced fashions complemented their music to a tee. Heck, Liam is so into fashion that he started his own designer label, Pretty Green. Methinks it’s fair to give the lion’s share of points in this category to Liam, so let’s give him 5, give Noel 4 and divide up the last point among the other band members for not looking out of place.

The fourth category is Live Performancewhich has 10 points. Another tough one. I mean none of the guys in Oasis is really known for being all that demonstrative on stage, but the image of Liam crouched behind the microphone with his head cocked back is an indelible and iconic image of the band. I’m going to go ahead then and give Liam 5 points for this category, toss 2 points to Noel for singing lead on occasion and playing lead guitar and distribute the other three points among the other guys in the band for showing up and playing their parts.

The fifth category is Attitude which has 5 points. Yet another tough one. Liam 3.5 Noel 1.5. Does anyone this side of Johnny Rotten bring more attitude to the stage than Liam? I don’t think so.

The final category is Intangibles (whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean) which has 15 points. I think it’s only fair to split these between the Gallagher brothers. Should we toss a point to Zak Starkey for being Ringo’s son and playing drums in the Who? Eh… perhaps. Fuck it. I really like Starkey’s drumming, so he gets a point. As for the other 14 points, 7 each to Noel and Liam.

Having distributed the points we can now take a look at the Gallagher brothers’ respective Gross Rock VORM. Liam comes in at 33, while Noel comes in at 62. Compare these numbers with Albert Hammond Jr.’s Gross Rock VORM in the Strokes as compiled by Klosterman: 27. Klosterman then adjusts the figures based upon the number of band members. Both the Strokes and Oasis typically had 5 members, so you divide the Gross Rock VORM by the number of band members and we wind up with what Klosterman calls Adjusted Rock VORM. In our case we get the following figures: Liam 6.6, Noel 12.4 and Hammond 5.4. What this figure represents is how many times better the individual musician is over an average replacement off the street. Liam is 6.4 times better than the average frontman and Noel is 12.4 times better than the average guitarist.

Klosterman notes that Adjusted Rock VORM is only suitable for judging the importance of a particular musician within his own group and has one final metric which allows us to compare musicians from different bands. This is called Real Rock VORM and is calculated by multiplying a musicians Adjusted Rock VORM by the “established value” of the band, a figure which ranges from 1.0 (the Beatles) to .01 (the Fabulous Thunderbirds… ouch). Klosterman lists the established value of a number of bands including the Strokes (.51 – somewhere between the Eagles and Metallica, which gives Hammond Jr. a 2.754 Real Rock VORM, meaning he’s better than anyone with a lower score and worse than anyone with a higher score) and Oasis (.635 – between Drive By Truckers and Fleetwood Mac). Like much of the rest of this statistic analysis, the established value of a band is a rather arbitrary and subjective measure. Personally, I think Oasis should be rated a little higher, so let’s give them a .685, which the value Klosterman gives to Queen. Let’s see how Noel and Liam stack up: Noel 8.494; Liam 4.384. Both Gallagher brothers are clearly superior to Hammond, but Noel is almost twice as valuable as his brother Liam. Whatever the origin of Oasis may have been, it’s well established that by the time of the release of Definitely Maybe, Oasis had become and would remain Noel’s band. And the numbers certainly corroborate that viewpoint. (Yeah, I know the numbers don’t mean shit, but it was fun in a roundabout and nerdy kind of way to figure them out).

Given the impact Noel had on Oasis, it would seem that any combination of musicians from Oasis minus Noel would have some large obstacles to overcome in order to reach the heights of greatness to which Oasis had grown accustomed. Well, with the arrival of Beady Eye, this was no longer a hypothetical situation. How do Liam and the other guys from the band stack up without Noel and his curmudgeonly leadership of the band?

Beady Eye Archer20 webAfter Oasis’s breakup news quickly followed that Liam planned to continue on with the other members of Oasis in a new project. Soon the new project’s name, Beady Eye, was revealed and word got out that the band was in the studio recording forthcoming debut album. The first sounds most people heard of Beady Eye came with the release of “Bring The Light”, the boogie woogie piano driven teaser single from what would become Different Gear Still Speeding. I admit I was a bit underwhelmed. “Bring The Light” was not what I was expecting. To be honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. It’s not that “Bring The Light” is a bad song, it’s just not a great song, although it had grown on me a ton since first listen and translated well to live performance. The Gallagher brothers never hid their love for the classic sounds of the Beatles and the Stones and this love clearly informed the band’s songwriting. It was a little strange to hear Beady Eye in some ways going back even further in rock history beyond the Beatles and the Stones to the sounds of the first era of rock n roll in the 50s and to musicians like Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, etc. One thing that did make me sit up and take notice, though, was the production values of the recording, which were reminiscent of Phil Spector’sWall of Sound.” I think it’s no coincidence that Liam would choose such an approach when you consider Spector’s involvement with the Beatles Let It Be project and with John Lennon’s solo work, especially a number like “Instant Karma.” Speaking of “Instant Karma”…

The first proper single from Different Gear Still Speeding was “The Roller”, and it’s with this song that I think Beady Eye really arrived. Yeah, the comparisons with “Instant Karma” are pretty obvious. So? Maybe it’s because I’m a huge Led Zeppelinfan but I’ve never really been bothered by band’s aping others, so long as they do it well. I don’t mean things like Nickelback rehashing themselves rehashing Silverchair rehashing Pearl Jam, which is just fucking lame. But bands like Zep and the Stones channeling American blues artists, the Beatles channeling Motown or even Oasis and now Beady Eye channeling the Beatles and the Stones. I think in all these latter cases the bands demonstrate a conviction and even a kind of authenticity as they’re channeling and reinterpreting their influences. The result is that instead of coming off sounding like a bunch of poseurs trying to cash in, the bands come off sounding like the latest step in a musical continuity with deep roots. In any case this is a hell of a song. It might not be “Wonderwall”, but it’s easily one of the catchiest singles to be released in 2011 so far. As I listened to ”The Roller” a few times, I started to think this record might not be half bad.

And half bad Different Gear Still Speeding is not. In fact it was pretty fucking good. I spend a lot of time in my car and on the subway, and I’m always listening to music in both. I always try to give a record a fair shake, and they way I do it is I give it the car test. I give the record a spin in my car and if it makes me want to drive fast I tend to like the record. It’s a dumb test, and it doesn’t always work. I love the new Fleet Foxes record but it doesn’t pass the car test. Such is life. In any case, I’ve been listening to the record now for a few months in the car and in other venues and it hasn’t worn out it’s welcome. Luckily, I’ve managed to avoid getting any speeding tickets. I’ll let others be the judge of whether or not the lyrical content is directed at a certain sibling or not (I’m inclined to think it is), but from a pure pop songwriting standpoint, this record is pure gold.

I actually sent a text to Petie Pie dated Mar 24 that says: “Call me crazy but the Beady Eye record might very well be the best thing anyone in Oasis has done since What’s the Story Morning Glory. Yeah I said it.” His response: “You’re fucking crazy.” That Pete was always one for brevity. Maybe not proper punctuation but certainly brevity. But you know what? I’m gonna stand by that hyperbolic statement for the most part, although I’ll give Oasis credit for Be Here Now, a damn good record that was unfairly slagged in the press. Plus you gotta love a record that’s considered a flop even though it went multi-platinum. It’s such a different world we live in now. I mean what does a hit record sell these days? I’m sure bands are exuberant if they just scrape past or even approach gold status. People actually used to buy albums – physical cds and vinyl – by the millions. My grand kids will never believe it.

Beady Eye Bell18 webI must admit I was surprised at just how good Different Gear Still Speeding is. All that math a few paragraphs above was more than just keyboard diarrhea (it’s not like I’m getting paid by the word… or at all), my point was to show just how important Noel had been to Oasis, especially in the songwriting department. His absence is a major blow to the talent in the band. It’s an understatement to say that the perception was that any project of Liam’s was bound to flounder without the guidance and songwriting chops of Noel. Certainly Liam and company had a huge hill in front of them to climb. But climb it they did. From the opening chords of “Four Letter Word”, the first track on the album, Beady Eye take off on a new musical adventure in many ways no longer laden down with the weight of Noel’s domineering presence. With Oasis you always got the sense that Noel was in charge and the other members were his pawns to do with as he saw fit. Throw in some sibling rivalry to the mix and it’s not hard to see why the band’s history was filled with so much tumult. Tension between band members can often be a catalyst to creativity, and this was certainly the case for Oasis, as the band’s track record proves. But as Beady Eye’s debut suggests, the Noel’s domineering role in Oasis may have also served to stifle the creative endeavors of his band-mates. There are some fucking good songs here that had they appeared on any of the Oasis records from Standing on the Shoulders of Giants to Dig Out Your Soul would have made those records unquestionably better. And the singles, “The Roller” and “Millionaire”, would certainly hold their own against some of the material from Oasis’s peak period up to Be Here Now. “Wigwam” is majestic. “Standing On The Edge Of The Noise” is raucous in all the right ways. This is a record that deserves to be played. Loudly. And it’s seems a shame, in retrospect now, that the guys in Beady Eye didn’t have more of an opportunity to contribute to the songwriting of Oasis.

Will Liam and Beady Eye ever be able to live down or up to “Wonderwall” and the legacy of Oasis. No, but who the fuck cares? This isn’t Oasis. This is Beady Eye. They’re a new band touring in support of their debut record. If anything they should be given a chance to succeed or fail on their own merits. The title of the record takes on a certain poignancy in light of this. Different Gear Still Speeding implies that band is on a forward trajectory. The past, as the cliché goes, is prologue. We’ll always have Oasis. We can throw on Definitely Maybe and rock out to “Supersonic” whenever we want. Our memories of Oasis’s live gigs will always be with us. But Oasis was one of those musical phenomena that come around once a generation: a combination of great songs, style and attitude that perfectly captured the zeitgeist of early and mid-90s England and which resonated across the Atlantic. Beady Eye can’t live up to that. Heck, Oasis in its latter phases couldn’t. No one could. It seems like the guys in Beady Eye are not content to rest on their laurels. They’re speeding forward.

Webster Hall NYC – Review

Still, no matter what Beady Eye does it’s going to be difficult to avoid comparisons with Oasis. That’s something they’re going to have to live with. Take last Thursday’s (06.23) gig at Webster Hall in New York, for instance. The last time Oasis played New York City, they headlined Madison Square Garden. You know, the place that calls itself, justifiably, the world’s most famous arena. It’s a huge indoor venue. Every big name in music has played the Garden (sorry Boston, there’s only one Garden and it ain’t in Beantown). It holds over 20,000 people for a concert. Webster Hall holds a tenth of that (shit, wasn’t expecting there to be even more math in this article… my apologies). The different venues are reflective of the respective status of the two bands: Oasis was a superstar caliber band; Beady Eye is still largely an unknown quantity. On the other hand, for fans of Liam, this is the most intimate venue they’ve probably gotten a chance to see him in in over a decade and a half. Sure enough the place was sold out. Before the show, I was wondering what the crowd would be like and what Liam’s demeanor on stage would be like. Would the crowd be a typical New York too cool for school crowd? Would that make Liam extra surly? But my fears were unfounded as it was most certainly a partisan crowd assembled to cheer on its hero. The crowd trended older, a lot of grey heads dotted the audience (note to self: start asking about Just For Men hair coloring. Or maybe Grecian 5.), and though there were Oasis shirts in abundance, it wasn’t like anyone was shouting out “play ‘Wonderwall’” or “We want Noel”. On the contrary Webster Hall frequently resounded with chants of “Liam!” before during and after the set.

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Beady Eye Woottoon17 webThe band hit the stage promptly at 9 pm and opened up with a blinding lightshow as they stormed through the album opener “Four Letter Word”. To put is simply, they rocked. There was Liam in fine form, his voice sounding strong, crouching down with his arms behind him, his head cocked back and singing up into the microphone. Like I said above, it’s a classic rock n roll image. He seemed happy to be there and though he didn’t say much to the crowd, it seemed like he talked more than at a typical Oasis gig. To his left was Gem Archer, banging away on guitar trading lead and rhythm with Andy Bell, who has switched over from playing bass in Oasis to guitar in Beady Eye. Behind them on the drums was Chris Sharrock playing in his usual maniacal style. This guy is a hell of a lot of fun to watch and definitely filled the void left by Zack Starkey’s departure from Oasis. A couple of somewhat unfamiliar faces joined the four main members of Beady Eye. On keys was Matt Jones and on bass was Jeff Wootton. As soon as I got my bearings after the band started playing I texted a friend who was at the show “Where’d they find the Bill Wyman circa 1971 lookalike to play bass?” I mean, the guy’s a dead ringer and a far, far braver man than I to sport that hairstyle. He’s also one hell of a musician. He’s played guitar in the Gorillaz, and I really recommend heading over to his myspace page (people still use myspace? Who knew?) and checking out some of his psychedelic material with him on guitar. It’s just great. It reminds me a lot of post-Syd Barrett, pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd. Some of the material sounds like the jam in “Echoes”, which is fucking epic. I’ll repeat, he’s a hell of a guitar player, and it was a stellar move to on the part of Beady Eye to tap him for the bass gig on the tour. I think it’d be great for the band if he stuck around and contributed to the band’s sound in a more prominent way. And that seems like something that is possible in Beady Eye as opposed to Oasis. I really got the sense that this was a proper band. Not that there was anything that Oasis’s live set left to be desired, I just felt that Archer and Bell owned this material just a little bit more, and considering the nature of the two bands, that’s not surprising.

The band played through the entirety of Different Gear Still Speeding and filled out the set with some covers and b-sides. The acoustics were pretty good for the nature of the venue and the band was loud. The kick drum was a bit boomy, but that’s what live sound engineers seem to like these days, and in any case there are worse things in life than to be pummeled by Sharrock’s kick drum playing. The interplay between Archer and Bell on guitar brought to mind everything that Keith Richards says about “the ancient art of weaving”, and the two seemed to have a little more room to stretch out than in Oasis. The stage setup was rather spartan, but the back wall served as a display screen for various images that corresponded to the song being played. Many of them were in the same style as the liner notes from the album. The gear the band was using deserves some mention. Aside from some of the keyboards was anyone onstage not using some ridiculously classic and sexy vintage instrument made before 1972? Motherfuckers.

The audience ate everything up, and it looked like the guys on stage were having a good time playing these songs. I wish the set could have been longer as it went by so quickly, which is understandable since they only have one album’s worth of material from which to draw their setlist, and it’s understood that no Oasis songs would be played. Is it a shame that we didn’t get to hear Liam sing “Wonderwall” or any number of classic Oasis songs? Sure. But Beady Eye is what it is. And what it is is a rocking band with some good, catchy songs. I look forward to hearing more from them in the future. I also look forward to hearing Noel’s solo album. Do I secretly hope that Oasis gets back together, records a new album and tours. Of course. Hell, I’m still hoping Led Zeppelin gets back together and tours, just as I’d been hoping Soundgarden would get back together and tour. You never know what may happen. The only thing I’m sure of is that whatever does happen it’s definitely gonna be worth listening to.

Nick Fokas

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