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ALBUM REVIEW: LIAM GALLAGHER – MTV UNPLUGGED (LIVE AT HULL CITY HALL)

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Liam Gallagher dials back the volume and bravado for this intimate acoustic performance – and he’s rarely sounded better **** Four stars

It’s fair to say Liam Gallagher and MTV Unplugged have unfinished business. Back in 1996, when Oasis were in their pomp, the Mancunian rock giants were booked to appear at London’s Royal Festival Hall as part of MTV’s venerable institution. On paper, it was a hugely tantalising prospect: the idea of the Gallagher brothers, famed for their wall-of-sound rock’n’roll anthems, performing stripped-back and acoustic.

     In the end, of course, it was only one of the brothers, Noel, who ended up performing the (somewhat lacklustre) concert. At the very last minute, younger brother Liam decided to bow out citing problems with his throat. However, that didn’t stop Liam from attending the concert and heckling his brother from a VIP box (proudly guzzling booze and smoking cigarettes – not the best remedy for a dodgy throat).

     It’s been a long time coming but, two decades later, Liam Gallagher finally had his chance to shine in the MTV Unplugged spotlight. Back in August last year, on the eve of releasing his second solo LP Why Me? Why Not, the younger Gallagher took to the stage at Hull City Hall to perform a set of Oasis classics and solo material. The timing, you might say, was apposite. Just as Oasis’ original MTV show took place during their imperial phase, so too has Liam Gallagher’s – a man who, having overcome numerous personal and professional problems, has mounted a staggeringly successful solo career in the past three years.        

     MTV Unplugged, however, is not really the sort of environment where Liam’s trademark braggadocio is necessary – and, to give him his due, Gallagher tailors his approach accordingly. Backed by rich, acoustic guitars, gospel backing singers and the 24-piece Urban Soul Orchestra, Liam delivers one of the finest, most measured vocal performances of his career. This isn’t the snarling, pugnacious Liam of ‘Rock N’ Roll Star’; but rather the Liam who – contrary to popular belief – can dial back the bravado and deliver vocals of aching sincerity.    

     Nowhere is that more apparent than when he’s singing his own solo material. The beautiful, sun-kissed ‘Now That I’ve Find You’, a song inspired by his daughter Molly, really suits the stripped-back, acoustic aesthetic. The dramatic ‘Gone’, with its swooping Ennio Morricone string line, sounds even more like a James Bond theme here. And, on the Lennon-esque ‘Once’, he provides a heart-stopping vocal befitting the song’s themes of sorrow and regret.    

      Unsurprisingly, though, it’s the Oasis numbers that really go down a storm. Credit must go to Liam’s band who have deftly rearranged those familiar anthems for the intimate acoustic setting. ‘Some Might Say’ skips along with added boogie-woogie piano; a stately ‘Stand By Me’ provokes a massive audience singalong; while ‘Champagne Supernova’, performed with just piano and strings, will guarantee maximum goosebumps. The real revelation, though, is his surprise rendition of ‘Sad Song’, a lesser-played B-side dating back to the Definitely Maybe era. Joined on guitar by his former bandmate Bonehead, Liam shows he can do melancholy just as convincingly as his older brother.  

      It may have taken 23 years, but Liam Gallagher finally gets to do his thing on the MTV Unplugged stage. And, as this excellent live album shows, he’s singing with greater conviction than ever.        

Liam Gallagher: MTV Unplugged is released via Warner Records on Friday June 12.

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