As the principal songwriter of Oasis, Noel Gallagher may have gone as far as he can with the pop song. In the past decade he has written epic anthems and earnest love odes and impossibly sticky melodies that were inescapable on the radio. And yet, for all that variety, he's still not above using the old tried-and-true devices, the stuff that worked for Jerry Lee Lewis and the Beatles, to get his point across. On the uneven Heathen Chemistry, he seeks transcendence through a pummeling and thoroughly transfixing T. Rex grind ("The Hindu Times," a magnificent drone) but then can't resist a softheaded power ballad ("Stop Crying Your Heart Out"). His most rousing tune, the U2-ish "(Probably) All in the Mind," reconfigures the twelve-bar blues into a metaphysical meditation, while his most contrived offering, "Little by Little," is the kind of earnest "Wind Beneath My Wings" crap even Bryan Adams would know to edit.
As on the last few Oasis outings, particularly the arrogant Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, from 2000, Noel's nerdy-architect tendencies are counterbalanced by the bratty and hedonistic snarl of his brother Liam, who delivers lines such as, "Talking to myself again/This time I think I'm getting through," with a blend of disconsolate moping and simmering, self-loathing frustration he should consider patenting. Liam wrote several songs — the overweening "Songbird," the inspired neopsychedelic fantasy "Born on a Different Cloud" — but it's his torn-apart vocals that redeem the better material on Chemistry, providing the blood and the guts, the heathen-ness and humanness necessary to make the songs feel like declarations from the heart, not idle exercises.