1994 was a hell of a year. Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan had her leg bashed by an accomplice of redneck rival Tonya Harding; someone finally made a live-action version of The Flintstones; and Oasis dropped Definitely Maybe, bequeathing us with both an epic album and the mother of all brotherly feuds that has outlasted even the band itself.
From when the band stumbled onto the world stage in a cloud of booze and (one assumes) increasingly better drugs to its inglorious split in 2009, Oasis was dominated by the long-running battle between Noel Gallagher and his loutish younger brother Liam. Sure, they were a decent band who, thanks to songwriter Noel, played often genius rock ’n’ roll. But it’s the sideshow that everyone remembered—and continues to remember, two years after Oasis broke up, thanks to yet another piss-up between the two.
Noel recently had the gall to suggest that Liam dropped out of a 2009 gig because he was hungover. Back in the day, the boys might have settled it like proper Mancunian brothers: bare knuckles over empty pint glasses. But when you are rock ’n’ roll royalty, you go to court to settle matters of pride. Liam launched a lawsuit against his brother, saying Noel had “questioned [his] professionalism.”
Liam didn’t want money; just an apology, which Noel gave via a Web chat with fans. The lawsuit is apparently still in limbo, as Liam claims the feud “isn’t over” but wouldn’t say what else he wanted out of his big brother. (A pound of flesh, perhaps?) And while both Liam and Noel have since moved on to other gigs, the incident was a reminder of just how pervasive Oasis remains, particularly in Britain, and how the protracted brotherly spat has overshadowed the band’s (sadly uninspiring) latter years.
Born to working-class parents in Manchester, the brothers showed a tendency early on to punch whatever got in their way. They were also united in their disgust for their father. “He’s a twat and will always be a twat,” Noel told Rolling Stone in 1996. Noel, six years Liam’s senior, was a roadie for the pasty psychedelic outfit Inspiral Carpets and had an arsenal of songs without an outlet. He went to see Liam’s band, then called the Rain, at a local pub and eventually made a deal with his brother. Noel would write the songs, Liam would sing them, and the other three entirely replaceable members would go on root-note autopilot.
It worked. Noel’s guitar playing is as deceptively simple and seemingly effortless as his songwriting. Coupled with Liam’s rasp and sneer—both delivered as he stood practically still behind a tall, downturned microphone—the two turned what would otherwise have been a middleweight bar band into something brilliant and as British as bad teeth and binge drinking.
Their feuding became legendary. One brother would very publicly refer to the other by a nasty word that starts with “c” and rhymes with “punt.” They rarely interacted onstage, with Noel often playing the role of embarrassed bandmate whenever Liam would pitch a fit. This name-calling had teeth, and concerts were sometimes cancelled because of it. In 1996, the band started its U.S. tour without Liam, who was apparently too busy house hunting to be bothered. Noel returned the favour in 2000. In 2011, two years after their split, Liam accused his brother of stealing songs from Oasis’s final sessions for his own solo project—an odd thing, really, since they were Noel’s songs to begin with. Noel wasn’t invited to Liam’s wedding in 2008, and Noel kept Liam off his own wedding guest list in 2011.
The sad part is how the feud carried on even as the music began to sputter. Definitely Maybe is a near-perfect rock album, with the follow up (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? at least within swinging distance of its predecessor. After that, the band fell off a cliff and never fully recovered. Though sprinkled with top-shelf rockers, the last five albums were increasingly crowded by connect-the-dots jobs slathered with Noel’s Play-Doh-thick schmaltz. It made Where Did It All Go Wrong?, the leaden ballad from 1999’s Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, doubly painful: it hurts to listen to it, and to think how prophetic it is.