In an industry built on marketability and effectively encouraging people to idolise pop stars, it’s easy to get mere musicians mixed up with true heroes. But while idols are fair-weather constructs of our reverence for riches, heroes are real and forever. Now, you can say what you want about Liam Gallagher – he would probably say the same. His every utterance brims with the exact kind of Mancunian swagger that is responsible for repeat generations of bad manners and even worse haircuts. Yet, Gallagher is and always will be a working-class hero. A charismatic self-made superstar, his appeal will endure long into the future, just as it did through the break-up of Oasis and the laborious tenure of Beady Eye. Now a solo artist, Gallagher’s sophomore release Why Me? Why Not. is, predictably, a psych-tinged rock and roller made up of stodgy lyricism and sallow musicality. Equally predictably, the album entered the UK charts at number one last year with critics in broad agreement that Gallagher had added some level of depth to his work since his insipid debut As You Were. Which, incidentally, also debuted at number one, going platinum in the process. Gallagher is a lousy songwriter with a brilliant voice. When Oasis sang, they sang terrace hymns with a chip on their shoulder, propelled by the explosive reagent of a misspent youth. As his voice fades, his steadfast refusal to leave the Oasis formula behind is the musical equivalent of a stray dog gnawing its own tail for sustenance. Those old songs yearned for an escape; their snide and snarling tone was a standard behind which all those who felt that they were entitled to more could rally. Whether you liked it or not, it was apparent that theirs was music steeped in lived experience. It was real. Now, looking down on a retreating kingdom, it is hard to see that tone as anything other than self-indulgent.
Then there was Stormzy. From YouTube sensation to grime star to Glastonbury headliner in just a few short years, Michael Omari’s rise to fame has been nothing short of meteoric. As he embarks on an eight-month, 59-date world tour, it would be easy to paint a picture of Stormzy with one hand on the big prize, a seat at the table of the upper echelons of the machine. That well-oiled place where the business of fame operates in perpetuity. But then, Big Michael isn’t really like that. Stormzy is establishing himself as a willing spokesperson for a disaffected generation. An open critic of what he identifies as systemic racism in the UK, his latest album is a powerful statement on the experience of the young black man in Britain. He is the rarest of all superstars; he is openly and unabashedly political, and his voice has affirmed his authenticity to a vast audience outside of the grime scene. Those who have heard him flow over junglist classics know that even before the time of Shut Up, Stormzy could skip over a beat with rare guile. On Heavy Is The Head, he naturally flexes those credentials, but it is the moments of tenderness that solidify his hero status. In expressing his vulnerability, Stormzy is unsure of himself, and while it doesn’t always land, you get the feeling that he is genuinely trying to follow his own path.
Heavy Is The Head and Why Me? Why Not. are both very different attempts to answer the same question, trying to work out what to do next. And when the two artists play this month to thousands of devoted fans, it is worth remembering that each is on the same journey, one at the start, another approaching the end.
Liam Gallagher | Tempodrom, Kreuzberg. Feb 11, 20:00.
Stormzy | Columbiahalle, Kreuzberg. Feb 20, 20:00.