Liam Gallagher and John Squire channel psychedelic Beatles, Yard Act thrill – the week’s best albums

Potent force: Liam Gallagher and John Squire
Potent force: Liam Gallagher and John Squire

Liam Gallagher and John Squire ★★★★☆

This is an album that starts exactly as it means to go on, fading up on a squall of electric guitar, rumbling bass and stomping drums, as if the band have been rocking out all day and the engineer has just remembered to press record. “Raise your hands / I can see you / We’re alive!” honks Liam Gallagher on a rousing mid-tempo rock anthem, whilst John Squire shrouds his bandmate’s committed vocal in silvery guitar licks.

With a piano pounding away in the centre, Raise Your Hands sounds like something Paul McCartney might have knocked out for Badfinger in the late 60s, amped up with the sonic punch of 70’s heavy rock and swaggering crunch of 90s Britpop. It is a song purpose built for grabbing your mate’s shoulders and bellowing at the sky, complete with a full set of “Nah-nah-nah”s.

The union of former Oasis frontman Gallagher and Stone Roses guitarist Squire has been greeted with a mixture of rampant enthusiasm (mainly from old Britpop fans, for whom this may be the ultimate nostalgic super duo) and critical sniffiness (a kind of derisive shrug at the notion of two old rockers doing exactly what you expect them to do). But if it sounds a lot like Oasis with the Stone Roses slippery fretwork on top – well, surely that is the whole point?

Squire is the most exciting and criminally underemployed rock guitarist of his generation, and it’s a treat to hear him back at 61 peeling off nimble licks and solos, blending the wild energy of Jimi Hendrix with the sinuous intelligence of Jimmy Page. And Gallagher (a decade younger at 51) is The Last Rock Star Standing, a man who delivers every note of every ridiculous lyric he has ever been saddled with (first by his brother Noel, then by teams of slavishly formulaic songwriters, and now by his original rock inspiration Squire) with a tone that cuts right through the mix and burns to the soul.

The rhythm section may lack the grooviness of the Stone Roses, while the songwriting may not be quite as pop-tastically effective as Noel Gallagher at his best, but then those are high bars. Squire is, at least, a heart-on-his-sleeve songwriter, who has given Liam some emotions and ideas to dig into. Beautifully set in reverb by producer Greg Kurstin (who also plays melodious Macca style bass, against drummer Joey Waronker’s Keith Moon fills), Gallagher’s vocals lift the melodies of One Day at a Time, Mars to Liverpool and Mother Nature’s Song aloft. He sounds particularly fantastic in the bluesy setting of Love You Forever and I’m A Wheel, even as he negotiates lines as clumping as “there’s blood in my custard”.

The framework really is mid-60’s psychedelic Beatles, essentially the sound of Rain and Paperback Writer with added sonic muscle and more lead guitar. But that is a good template, one that Oasis and Stone Roses forged into a potent force in their heydays, and that Gallagher and Squire clearly still relish. You don’t have to be greater than the sum of your parts when the parts are already as great as this. Neil McCormick

Yard Act, Where’s My Utopia? ★★★★★

“It’s now my great pleasure to introduce to you the greatest voice of the entire century” makes for quite the album opening. Which cocksure artist could be behind it: the younger Gallagher, Morrissey, Beyoncé? Perhaps Kanye West, back with another incoherent shrine to narcissism.

Nope – Leeds post-punk band Yard Act have decided to follow up their Mercury Prize-nominated debut album, The Overload, with Where’s My Utopia, made up of 11 songs of such staggering clarity that I found myself breathing a sigh of relief halfway through that bands like this still exist in Britain.

The Overload was brilliant, full of quick wit and razor-sharp polemic about the UK’s crumbling infrastructure, struggling communities and disenfranchised youth, but it lacked a certain musicality – James Smith’s monotonous delivery made some songs veer too closely to spoken word. In comparison, Where’s My Utopia? borrows from disco, ska, electronica and baggy, glorious hip-hop as well as punk – it is danceable and shoutable, fusing their original influences (The Fall, Gang of Four) with the likes of Gorillaz (makes sense – drummer Remi Kabaka Jr produced it), Parisian electronica duos Justice or Daft Punk, and Chic.

Smith’s lyrics remain the draw, of course: “It’s a Bank Holiday / So all the hospitals are shut / Guess I’ll have to saw off my own foot” he declares, matter-of-factly, on An Illusion; Dream Job continues his derision towards the subservient and the selfish, property owning classes (“Is it ambitiously weak to be proficiently poor and still smile?”)

We Make Hits proves Yard Act are a band unafraid to take the mick out of themselves. They play up to their image as “post-punk’s latest poster boys”, intent on luring scores of “millennial men” into their gigs. More often than not, lyrics as political as Smith’s are hindered by the sense you’re being lectured – told what to think, what to feel.

But when the music’s this good, who cares? Smith has a rare knack for clever wordplay – missing in British indie since Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner swapped skewering everyday life for la-di-da ruminations on space travel – that simply can’t be taught. It’s why so many indie bands churn out the same nothing-y songs filled with lyrics about drugs and girls; why so much new music sounds like pastiche. But Smith has got it – what a thrill. Poppie Platt

Songs of the Week

By Poppie Platt

Another Sky, I Never Had Control
The folk rockers have a pure talent in singer Catrin Vincent: here, she sings of a search for bodily autonomy; her soaring, bittersweet vocals seem to be from a different time, when music was simpler and lyrics were intended to tell a story – think Sandy Denny or June Tabor.

Cigarettes After Sex, Tejano Blue
Another sweet-natured ode to romance from the US dream-pop band, saturated with influences from the ‘90s Texas music scene (you can hear whispers of Selena’s Dreaming of You, just below the surface) that frontman Greg Gonzalez grew up with.

ScHoolboy Q, Yeern 101
“I ain’t never met God, but I bet he know me,” the LA-raised Grammy-nominee raps on this furiously passionate track from new album Blue Lips (out today – his first in five years) that describes his tough journey from struggle to riches.

St Vincent, Broken Man
The art-pop queen’s upcoming album All Born Screaming will be her first to be self-produced; if this fiery track is anything to go by, we can expect plenty of self-reflection and thrashing guitars – and a fair share of innuendo (“I can make your kingdom come [...] So open up my little one”).

The Dandy Warhols, Danzig With Myself
The Portland rockers – forever enshrined in my mind as the creators of TV’s best ever theme song, in Veronica Mars’s We Used To Be Friends – team up with Pixies’ Black Francis on this fuzzy, riff-heavy track deploring humanity’s naivety (“I can’t believe how many people want to deceive us / And I can’t believe how many people want to receive it”).

Wolfgang Tillmans, We Are Not Going Back
Known primarily as a photographer – Tillmans was the first non-Brit to win the Turner Prize, back in 2000 – the German artist fuses art and sound on this defiant, techy response to the world’s growing intolerance of LGBT people. Check out the striking video featuring his grandfather’s 80-years-old footage from NYC and West Germany.