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Angels vs Supernovas: a statistical analysis of the Gallagher brothers’ rivalry

The relationship of Liam and Noel Gallagher is Manchester's second most famous soap opera. What do their lyrics tell us about their clash?

By Nicholas Blincoe & Robert Blincoe  

Oasis stars Liam and Noel Gallagher pictured at the Q Magazine music awards in London. Oasis frontman Liam received the Best Act in the World trophy on behalf of the band at the 10th anniversary of the awards.

The toxic relationship between Noel and Liam Gallagher is Manchester’s second greatest Soap Opera, and in many ways more thrilling, funny and cringe-worthy than anything seen on Coronation Street.

As an older brother, however, I find there is something a little too close to home about their relationship. I spent two decades looking for ways to wind up my little brother, Robert, sixteen months younger than me.

If I never came up with a line quite as funny as Noel’s, “He’s a man with a fork in a world of soup,” I always stole his favourite telly chair when he went to the loo, and circled his teenage spots with magic marker.

So, when Robert suggested applying data analysis to the Gallaghers’ relationship, I saw the possibilities: it offered an insight not just into the Gallaghers’ work, but into our sibling rivalry.

Noel wrote the vast majority of Oasis songs, and sang on twenty-six of the more than 130 tracks recorded by the band. This means he was willing to pick twenty-six fights with anyone ready to point out that his voice is characterless and his face looks unpleasantly peeved when in motion.

As an older brother, I appreciate Noel’s willingness to provoke a fight in the most roundabout and passive-aggressive manner possible.

The figures suggest that in some way the remaining 100+ songs—more than 80 per cent of the Oasis output—were ‘meant’ for Liam. At a poetic level, the story of Oasis is that Noel found his muse in his brother. Noel wrote lyrics that only a Rock ‘n Roll star could get away with, and Liam thrillingly rose to the challenge.

What does an Oasis song sound like?

The data analysis shows the Oasis template has survived from the days of the band into the solo work by both brothers.

There is a formula, a minimal set of lyrics augmented with lots of “lah-lahs”, lots of “gonnas” and “wannas” to express the restless rock ‘n’ roll spirit, with “love,” “soul,” “spirit” and “world” featuring prominently as ambitions.

They are brothers, and the songs bear this out: they are far more similar than different.

Perhaps Noel’s reasons for pinching back some of the songs was that he found it difficult to watch his brother perform, in the way that Caliban found it difficult to look at his face in the mirror. The problem being, of course, that when Noel sang, the result was Caliban without the sex appeal.

Some might say…

But how does their solo work differ? Any analysis of the data depends upon fine distinctions and, perhaps, subjective views. But the Noel of the Oasis days did have a talent for the unusual phrase, such as “Champagne Supernova” and “Wonderwall.”

He was also ready to turn negative traits into positives, such as dissolution and self-destruction seen in the great celebration to cigarettes and alcohol.

In the data analysis, the oddest and the most negative words all appear in Liam’s solo lyrics: such as circus, uniform, dark, hard, and noise.

Noel tends to rely on the kind of commonplaces one finds in love songs: such as, beautiful, spell, dream.

Alongside this softer mood, Noel’s solo work exhibits a mundane positivity. Indeed, in an interview with Elton John, Noel claimed he was aiming for the ‘joyful’. There was joy in Oasis, of course, but it was self-destructive.

The new work by Noel perhaps reflects the life of a middle-aged man who has done some therapy. Liam, in contrast, is still the Rock ‘n’ Roll star.

Without doubt, there is something unusual about Liam. He is not an ordinary man, and perhaps not a normal one, either. He is off-kilter, and whether this is a gift or an absence, a self-creation or the result of some brain chemistry, it contributes to his star appeal.

Reviews of his recent shows have wondered how a middle-aged man in an anorak can hold the attention so completely without a stage show. Liam is other-worldly, while Noel is close to being blokey: a super-bloke, maybe, but a bloke nevertheless. The data confirms it.

Robert did not grow up to outshine me by embracing Rock ‘n’ Roll, however. He took a simpler path: he is five inches taller and still has all his hair.

Note:

Lyrics taken from the Noel composed Oasis’ songs across the band’s seven studio albums; Noel’s three High Flying Birds albums; and Liam’s first solo album as well as the two albums he recorded with his post Oasis band Beady Eye.

Analysis conducted using the R packages tidytext and tidyverse.

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