Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)

noel_gallagher_high_flying_birds_album_cover_location_beverly_hillsFrom popmatters.com

When Britpop’s leading group Oasis imploded in 2009 following one final blow-up between eternally quarreling siblings Noel and Liam Gallagher, it was somewhat surprising that bandmates Gem Archer and Andy Bell would elect to throw their lot in with the latter of the two to form Beady Eye. Of the pair, Liam is the more volatile: easy to rankle, quick to anger, and infamous for resorting to physical violence to settle disputes. Regardless of whatever the cause of the break might have been or who may have been at fault, the aftermath left Noel, Oasis’s lead guitarist and primary songwriter, without an outlet for his material.

Considering this is a man who has incessantly boasted for close to two decades about his songwriting prowess, it was inevitable that Noel Gallagher would find a way to get his latest batch of songs out there in some fashion. It would be reasonable to say that the public (in Britain, at least), concurs with Gallagher’s self-assessment. Evidently viewing him as the true talent from Oasis compared to his little brother and his old sidemen, British consumers have responded accordingly at the sales counters. Noel’s debut solo LP has noticeably emerged to a better reception than Beady Eye has mustered with its output so far, topping the UK Albums Chart upon release and already spinning off two Top 20 pop singles. Given the reception, it looks like Liam’s floated idea for a 2015 Oasis reunion to commemorate the 20th anniversary of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? isn’t something Noel will be attentively mulling over any time soon.

The clumsily titled Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is only half-heartedly positioned as more than a mere solo project. There’s no question that the man is firmly in charge here, freed up from having to share top billing with his singing sibling. Eschewing the sort of heads-down, group shout-along rock ‘n’ roll anthems Oasis (Liam in particular) always favored, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds focuses on the songwriter’s other well-trod creative stomping areas, bouncy psychedelic pop and balmy balladry. Bolstered by full-bodied and warm production that suggests Gallagher’s legendary self-confidence has not been diminished one iota in the two years since his group’s demise, these ten songs are augmented with loads of strings, brass, and backing singers wherever possible, with touches of electronica production tricks that suggest a newfound sense of experimentalism.

Well, experimental for Noel Gallagher. Though Gallagher has expressed adoration for everything from grunge to Krautrock to trip-hop over the years, Oasis’ repertoire was strictly defined by extremely catholic classic rock reference points. If there was no guitar, no hook, and no giant chorus, the band didn’t give a toss. Gallagher continues to follow a musical gameplan dictated by the very rigid parameters of what the songwriter considers to be emblematic of great rock music. So as in past offerings, the album is built upon sing-song melodies reliant on repetitive two- or four-bar phrases, simplistic rhyme schemes (“If I had the time / I’d stop the world and make you mine”) that aim for universality over profound meaning, and plodding, strident rhythms that exhibit a dearth of syncopation. The most bounce you get is in the rootsy shuffles found in the likes of “The Death of You and Me”, but that tune is just aping the more baroque side of the Kinks and the Beatles, two of Gallagher’s chief idols and most transparent influences (not to mention owning a more direct debt to the verses from Oasis’ “The Importance of Being Idle”). Song structures follow predictable verse/chorus formats, and bridges like that in “(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine” only ratchet up linear emotional sensation instead of veering into new directions. “Stop the Clocks”, a scrapped Oasis tune that Gallagher has resurrected for his new project, at least throws in prechoruses that lead to satisfying explosions of blatantly psychedelia-redolent soloing.

True, it’s not like anyone should be anticipating any new tricks from the proudly formalist Gallagher at this stage. Observers have known not to expect him to deviate too much from his formula ever since the overcooked Be Here Now (1997) proved to even Oasis’ most optimistic advocates that the band’s idea of a sonically ambitious record involved little more than making all the songs over five minutes long and adding unnecessarily excessive amounts of guitar overdubs. However, this record won’t dispel the popular notion that Noel’s Midas touch was depleted writing the first two Oasis albums. The next “Live Forever” or “Wonderwall” certainly isn’t found here, but you do get “AKA… Broken Arrow”, a song that heavily trades on “Wonderwall” for ideas. “(Stranded on) The Wrong Beach” is another glaring example of how limited Noel’s bag of tricks is as it cribs the lapping waves tide sound effect from “Champagne Supernova” for its conclusion. Even when he’s trying to experiment, Gallagher can only stretch so far. Noel spoke in a Quietus interview of trying to evoke acid house in the single “AKA… What a Life!”, his acceptable stab at indie dance, but filtered through his sensibilities the track ends up more akin to an offering by Oasis-worshipping Brit rock group Kasabian.

Even with all the bells and whistles, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is not much more than what one would expect given the name on the artwork—and sure, that will suit many potential purchasers perfectly fine. Beneath the shiny new ear candy, the album pedles the same sort of passable exercises in Gallagher’s patented populist songcraft that have populated the last decade’s worth of Oasis LPs, with the main difference being the boorish laddishness embodied by Liam is totally absent (one of the album’s virtues is that it reminds listeners that Noel has a fine if undistinguished singing voice, a talent that was understandably underutilized in Oasis in favor of his brother’s grittier and more expressive vocal abilities). It’s a slight departure from Noel’s usual pub and football terrace-friendly fare, but only just, and absence of Liam in front of the microphone instantly leaves the potential of the material to surpass its average nature untapped, since it was his cocksure delivery that often made latter-day Oasis any interesting. Long-starved Oasis fans can take solace in the notion that although there’s no chance of Gallagher returning to his mid-’90s creative peak, he’s maintaining his brand with a sincere stab at variance at least.

Advertisements

June 5, 2013 Posted by | Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds | , | Leave a comment

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)

noel_gallagher_high_flying_birds_album_cover_location_beverly_hillsFrom Uncut

What’s Noel Gallagher’s problem? Fabulously wealthy and finally shot of his brother, he’s surely now free to make the self-indulgent, critic-pleasing album displaying all the wit and taste he’s previously reserved for his interviews. Following in the footsteps of his heroes, like Weller after The Jam, like Marr after The Smiths, like Ian Brown after the Stone Roses, he could reveal the restless, questing free-ranging spirit that was fettered by the dopey conservatism of his old group.

But that sibling rivalry runs deep. Following Beady Eye’s goofily enjoyable debut earlier this year, is he content to let Liam claim the mantle of Continuity Oasis and swagger off with the rump of their old audience, leaving him with the cold comfort of a couple of extra stars from broadsheet reviewers? What’s a Britpop boy to do?

Well, you could try to have it both ways. As the promo campaign ahead of his solo debut is a bit too eager to point out, High Flying Birds is just the first of two Noel Gallagher albums, and will be followed in 2012 by his collaboration with pie-eyed psychonauts Amorphous Androgynous (who previously cooked up an epic reworking of the final Oasis single, “Falling Down”). The Amorphous Androgynous album is, according to Noel, “far fucking out”. Very much in contrast to High Flying Birds, then.

An unkind critic might note that the highest flying birds are generally vultures, wanting to scope out the largest possible territory for rotting carcasses to scavenge. Noel’s Birds stick pretty close to his favourite hunting grounds, however. The first single “The Death Of You And Me” is by far the best thing here, folksy fingerpicking, spooky organ and an oddly affecting, ominous lyric elevating what would otherwise seem an obvious airgun marriage of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City” and The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon”.

The Kinks-fix that Noel has been on since at least “The Importance Of Being Idle” hangs heavy all over High Flying Birds. The looming dread of “Dream On” (“Oh me, oh my, I’m running out of batteries…”) owes something to “Dead End Street”, “Soldier Boys And Jesus Freaks” refers to “all the people on the village green” and by the time of “(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach” you get the feeling he could knock out one of these well-turned, doomy, descending bass line ditties in his sleep, like a craftsman knocking out reproduction furniture. On the final Oasis album a track like “Falling Down” seemed novel, enlivened by a sudden midlife sense of mortality. Here that feeling has gone stale, with songs that settle into humdrum strums and occasionally struggle to rouse themselves from their torpor with comedy brass codas.

Elsewhere, he sticks even closer to home: the first couple of Oasis albums. Both “If I Had A Gun” and “Broken Arrow” labour vainly to escape the long shadow of “Wonderwall”. The cumulative effect of all this mid-tempo moodiness is that High Flying Birds feels awfully plodding – particularly in comparison to the unexpected zip and zest of Beady Eye’s Different Gear, Still Speeding. It’s not until the sixth track, “What A Life”, that the pace picks up, but it’s too little, too late.

The closing “Stop The Clocks” was written for Oasis’ Don’t Believe The Truth [2004] but mysteriously left off the album at the last minute, going on, in its continuing absence, to provide the title for the 2006 greatest hits comp. After all this time you might reasonably imagine it was some rare jewel Noel was sensibly stockpiling for his solo career. But despite the dimly psychedelic gesture of some “Lucy In the Sky…” keyboards and a laborious closing wig-out, it can’t help but close the album with a sense of lumbering anti climax. “What if I’m already dead/How would I know?” he sings, offering an open goal that’s difficult to resist.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that High Flying Birds is a half-hearted failure of nerve, an attempt to play to the base more characteristic of a hedging politician than a truly reckless rock ’n’ roll star. The end of Oasis was never going to be the end of the battling Gallagher’s, and after the first round of the solo careers, the score is indubitably Liam 1, Noel 0. If nothing else, High Flying Birds has upped the stakes for the return leg.

April 18, 2013 Posted by | Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds | , | Leave a comment

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)

noel_gallagher_high_flying_birds_album_cover_location_beverly_hillsFrom supajam.com

Oasis were undoubtedly one of the biggest British rock bands of the last 30 years and the Gallagher brothers are now two of the most well-known names in music. Now whether you’re a fan of Liam or Noel, it’s pretty much common knowledge that the pair have always done things differently. On one side we have Liam, the larger than life, super boisterous outspoken Oasis bashing headline generator and on the other side we have Noel, the more down to earth, laid back of the siblings.

When Oasis split back in 2009 due to Noel leaving with the quote, “with some sadness and great relief…I quit Oasis tonight. People will write and say what they like, but I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer”. Liam made it clear that Oasis would be carrying on without Noel. The remaining members re-named to ‘Beady Eye’ and released their debut album ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ only a year later.

So while Liam rushed to get things going, offering up some fairly decent versions of Oasis-sounding songs, Noel took the long-view approach, realising that a great album has to be nurtured, coddled and brought up right.

Some people might say that Noel held all the cards for Oasis: He was the main songwriter, writing all of the hits that gave Oasis their legendary status in the first place. Not only that but his singing voice was simply magnificent, a rich throaty delivery that could be so expressive and passionate but widely underused of the two Gallagher brothers. Then again, there would be no need for Liam if Noel just wrote and sang all the songs would there…

So it was to many fans’ delight when Noel announced he would be working on not one, but two solo albums! Even more so when early demos started to leak on the internet showcasing that Noel hadn’t lost his genius song writing touch.

After two long years it’s finally here ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’. It delivers some of the best material Noel has written since ‘What’s The Story Morning Glory’ as it has everything you would come to expect from Noel; Each track is brilliantly composed with all the emotional buttons – desperation, anger, joy, melancholy and everything else included! Utilising the talents of new band mates Jeremy Stacey (drums), Lenny Castro (Percussion) and Mike Rowe (Keyboards) the manner in which they jump through so many moments of epiphany, sometimes in the space of one song, is astonishing.

Now we wouldn’t go as far to say that this album is the future of Rock ‘n’ Roll but if it wants to linger around for the next few years we certainly wouldn’t complain. With another album apparently just around the corner we here at SupaJam can only hope we’re not dreaming, and that music still has a leg to stand on in this world plagued with Teen pop, dubstep, horrible R&B collaborations, X-Factor rejects and everything in-between.

‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ sets another precedent for the rest of the music scene to live up to, and if everyone was to just take one step in the same direction as Noel then maybe in twenty years’ time we can look back on the music of our generation and be proud.

April 13, 2013 Posted by | Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds | , | Leave a comment

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)

noel_gallagher_high_flying_birds_album_cover_location_beverly_hillsFrom The Huffington Post

After the 2009 breakup of their incredibly successful rock band Oasis, perpetually fighting brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher went their separate ways. With him, Liam took the rest of the Oasis band members and formed a new group called Beady Eye whose debut album, which was released earlier this year to lukewarm reviews, called to mind an early Oasis sound with a bit of the Rolling Stones and Beatles thrown in. Older brother Noel went his own route and formed Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, whose name comes from a favourite Jefferson Airplane tune of his.

With the help of long time friends David McDonnell on guitar and Russell Pritchard on bass as well as a few studio musicians filling in here and there, Noel recorded the band’s debut self-titled album, which was also released along with a half-hour making-of documentary called It’s Never Too Late to Be What U Might Have Been. In the documentary, Noel, now age 44, compares making his new album to what it was like making Definitely Maybe, Oasis’ first record, which was released in 1994. He explains that making the two albums were similar in that “you haven’t got an audience,” he said. “The only people that knew I was making a record was the wife and my manager.”

The album features a few new tracks written after Oasis’ breakup and a few tracks that Noel wrote years ago with the intention of having them released on an Oasis album. “Stop the Clocks,” in fact, was recorded by Oasis twice over the years, but never managed to make itself onto an album (though the band did use the name for their Best Of record that was released in 2006). What comes of these songs, particularly the ones that were written five or ten years ago, is that they give Noel’s new album a very strong Oasis-y feel.

There are even songs, like “If I Had a Gun…” and “AKA… Broken Arrow,” that begin with guitar strumming that you’d swear will break into “Wonderwall” at any moment. Even the beginning of the album’s first track, “Everybody’s On the Run,” has that same dead air, then the sound of someone coughing, followed by music, just as “Wonderwall” does.

In response to his lack of creative departure on this album, Noel comments that “I’m not adept enough as a musician to go into a studio and say ‘You know what? I wanna make a jazz album.’ I can’t do that… I can’t read music. I’m not a great guitarist. I’m not a great singer. I’m great at being me and doing what I do.” As a music critic, perhaps a bit more creative effort would be appreciated. However, as a Noel Gallagher fan, I really couldn’t care less that he didn’t decide to make a jazz album or at least something else even slightly more daring.

Tracks like “AKA… What a Life,” “Everybody’s On the Run,” and “The Death of You and Me” certainly make up for any lack of daring departures though. “Everybody’s On the Run” has lush, layered instrumentation that washes over and vibrates through you. It features a 24-piece string ensemble and 100-piece choir that swells and contrasts nicely against Liam’s gritty rock and roll voice, electric guitar, and strong back beat.

“The Death of You and Me,” while still a rock tune at heart, has a slight Parisian feel (I’m serious) and a New Orleans-sounding horn bit at the end that is a little bawdy and incredibly enjoyable. “Good Rebel,” a bonus track found on the deluxe edition, is also quite a gem with its optimistic pop beats, Wall of Sound layering, and Noel’s wonderful vocals.

As a whole, the album feels meticulously crafted, mature, and even happy and optimistic (imagine that). Though some tracks are unfortunately a bit forgettable, there are a few surprises sprinkled throughout that should make any Noel Gallagher fan as happy as a clam.

April 12, 2013 Posted by | Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds | , | Leave a comment

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)

noel_gallagher_high_flying_birds_album_cover_location_beverly_hillsFrom pitchfork.com

Oasis perpetually faced accusations of over-borrowing from rock history, unapologetically nicking words and melodies from the biggest groups of all time. But the band were also skilled samplers of rock’n’roll storylines, arriving in the early 1990s pre-equipped with that classic intra-band conflict, the singer vs. the songwriter.

The tension between Noel and Liam Gallagher arrived with Oasis in the early 90s as a fully-formed rock drama worthy of Keith-Mick, Robert-Jimmy, and Rog-Pete, given added juice by shared genetics. With Chekhov’s gun inevitability, their squabbles blew Oasis apart in 2009, with the final indignity of forcing Noel, the band’s master architect, to quit his own masterpiece project via blog post.

So here begins the familiar second act of the rock’n’roll story arc, the competitive-solo-record period. While Liam and the rest of Oasis got in the first punch (reforming and flicking Vs at their former bandleader as Beady Eye), Noel has launched his High Flying Birds “collective” with a premise that’s also rock canon: who needs a frontman, anyway? Oasis history already gives Noel some credibility on that front– by their second album, the guitarist was already taking lead vox duties on a hit single (“Don’t Look Back in Anger”), and the notorious MTV Unplugged episode proved he could do just fine without his brother on the band’s other material, thank you very much.

But for a declaration of independence, the self-titled High Flying Birds LP sounds awfully nostalgic for the good old days. Through most of the mercifully brief 10 tracks, Gallagher passes on the opportunity to use this new career chapter for either an Albarn-like experimental exploration or something stripped-down and personal.

Of course, nothing in his career to date would suggest “stripped-down” is in Noel’s vocabulary. His new band goes straight back to the widescreen aesthetic, with choirs, string sections, horn sections, and choruses aiming for the universal. Noel is still writing for the stadium– it’s the only audience he knows.

Keeping that in mind, a listener can forgive a lot of corniness, even as Noel tests the limits. At this point, it’s almost endearing that he earnestly sees no problem starting a song with the lyric, “Hot time/ Summer in the city,” and thinks the clunky “(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine” is an acceptable song title and hook. But the latter track also shows Gallagher can still tickle anyone who once took the kind of soaring-orchestra-and-guitar-solo bridge (think Slash emerging from a pool of water in the rain) seriously. If the emotional power of anthemic rock is quickly draining, Gallagher remains among the best conductors of the fumes.

Still, there are some intriguing ideas buried under the maudlin arrangements and verse-chorus-verses. Often, the most interesting parts of the songs float frustratingly on the periphery of the mix, as with the lap steel of “If I Had a Gun…” or the musical saw that eerily haunts both “The Death of You and Me” and “AKA… Broken Arrow”. One place where that formula reverses promisingly is “AKA… What a Life!”, which is built upon a stormy piano loop, filtered drums, and Noel’s melancholic take on 20 years of stardom.

The song is a reminder that Gallagher might have found a more exciting solo path by revisiting “Setting Sun”, the Oasis-related moment that sounds most vital in 2011 (and perhaps the inspiration for his upcoming collab with Future Sound of London side project the Amorphous Androgynous). But instead he chooses to make another MTV Unplugged statement that’s equal parts self-sufficient and self-conscious, all but writing in Liam and the rest of Beady Eye drunkenly heckling from the balcony.

Founding High Flying Birds on pretty much the same musical territory as his old band, where Liam’s snide yowl will always win out over Noel’s passable but pedestrian voice, is the album’s critical flaw. Forever a slave to rock history, Gallagher feels like he’s biding his time for the third act reunion rather than breaking from the well-trod path.

April 1, 2013 Posted by | Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds | , | Leave a comment

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)

noel_gallagher_high_flying_birds_album_cover_location_beverly_hillsFrom whatculture.com

After the break-up of a great band, the subsequent solo releases need to balance everything that is needed for a great record: sounding fresh, different and inventive without alienating the fans that you left behind. An example of a solo that was not so successful was Liam Gallagher’s post-Oasis band Beady Eye, which took all the worst parts of Oasis and made an album out of them.

Their first album ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ was incredibly dull, even disappointing the charts by only reaching number three in the charts. Over six months later and Liam Gallagher’s brother and Oasis band mate, Noel Gallagher is releasing his first album under the name ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’

When ‘High Flying Birds’ first starts it sound not too dissimilar from Oasis songs such as ‘The Masterplan’ and ‘The Importance of Being Idle’. The ‘oh so familiar’ soft Manchurian voice from most of the better Oasis songs, the guitar solos, the Beatle’s influenced everything: Everything that made Oasis great in the first place.

Unlike Oasis, however choirs and string sections are everywhere in this album, hiding behind guitar solos or between verses. Noel recently spoke out about a love of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western themes and it is not difficult to see their influences on the record.

The best songs on ‘High Flying Birds’ include the single ‘The Death of You and Me’ with its catchy tune (I’m whistling as I’m writing this) and its brilliant horn section, which pleasantly surprises you every time you hear it. Another great song is the albums opener, ‘Everybody’s On the Run‘, which is soaked in choirs and strings. One of the album’s highlights has to be the albums closer: Stop the Clocks which goes into a choir soaked build up to an instrumental at the end, reminding me of Pulp’s Sunrise mixed with A Day in the Life.

However, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is far, far from perfect. Some of the songs are too big for his soft voice. I’ve always said that I preferred Noel’s voice but just sometimes it sounds like he could do with a more natural frontman to fill his void. Some of the songs also sound too Oasisey.

Despite the strings and choirs he still sounds very similar to the Oasis days. Most of the best tracks on the album have been heard before in some form anyway, from being played live to bootlegs from the Oasis days.

If anyone likes a Beatles comparison its Noel: If High Flying Birds is similar to any post-Beatles record, its Paul McCartney’s ‘Ram’. Filled to the brim with soft rock and radio friendly tunes but also remaining fresh and different, pleasing both the fans and the critics.

Compared to Oasis themselves, we often feel reminded of Oasis songs: the beginning of ‘If I Had a Gun’ sounds vaguely like Wonderwall, ‘The Death Of You and Me’ draws more than a few parallels to ‘The Importance Of Being Idle’ and Wonderwall again on ‘AKA Broken Arrow’.

While listening to ‘High Flying Birds’ I got a feeling I hadn’t felt for a long while on an Oasis record: This is really, really good. There is no doubt in my mind what Gallagher brother is better. Not that there ever was anyway: Looking back on Oasis’ discography you see that many of their best songs are sung by Noel himself. Maybe this is because he feels more natural singing songs written for himself rather than for his brother.

Overall I think ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ is a solid album and has some great anthems on it, but it is possibly not enough of a departure from a familiar sound, especially for a songwriter as talented as Noel definitely is.

Noel Gallagher has a second album coming out early next year though, a collaboration with the experimental electronic outfit Amorphus Androgynous. Maybe this will be when we get to hear Noel get down to some serious business.

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds | , | Leave a comment

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)

noel_gallagher_high_flying_birds_album_cover_location_beverly_hillsFrom The Independent

This is apparently the first of two completed albums Noel Gallagher has readied for release. The other, a collaboration with studio duo Amorphous Androgynous, will follow next year, and it’s to be hoped it has a touch more sparkle and sonic invention than Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, which, while not a bad effort, doesn’t exactly set the heart racing.

The album shuffles in on hazy waves of mellotron strings and choir, before the haze disperses to reveal Noel advising us to “hang in there love, you got to hold on” in “Everybody’s on the Run”, an almost friendly dismissal of someone trying to walk in Noel’s shoes. The late addition of strings, rather than bringing uplift, ends the song on a slightly elegiac note.

The next few tracks lollop along in familiar Oasean manner: “Dream On” chugs pleasantly without once implying there were some compulsion behind its existence, while “If I Had a Gun”, were it on …Morning Glory?, might make a decent support to “Wonderwall”, though never threatening its supremacy.

The addition of trad-jazz trumpet to the former, and to “The Death of You and Me”, just seems a badly misplaced attempt to spice up Noel’s standard sound, and it’s almost a relief when the Beatle-esque Oriental-style strings make an appearance on “(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine”. Though bookended with gimmicky children’s voices, it’s the most welcoming track here, a classic Gallagher concoction of hints and influences – in this case, The Lovin’ Spoonful transforming into psychedelic-era Fabs – which fully bears out its titular desire.

The next few tracks continue the 1960s tour: “Aka… What a Life!” features a rolling piano groove reminiscent of the Stones’ “We Love You”, layered with raunchy guitar chords and mellotron, and is as pleasing as that makes it sound, Noel exultantly proclaiming how he’s “gonna take that tiger outside for a ride”. It’s not quite that exciting a ride, though it will probably be a show-stopper if he gets round to touring this material.

Yet another trumpet appears on “Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks”, whose plonking electric piano riff and vocal line have a certain Kinks-y charm, an aspect emphasised by the lyric reference to the “village green”: one imagines Noel driving through a village and thinking not of the actual village itself, but of Ray Davies’s song about the village, as if his whole worldview were seen through the refracting prism of pop.

Unfortunately, from there the album slides ignominiously towards the exit. “Aka… Broken Arrow” is routine Wonderwallery, Noel seeking to “ease [his] troubled mind” over acoustic guitar and mellotron; and “(Stranded On) the Wrong Beach” is a textbook penultimate track, a nothing song.

At least “Stop the Clocks” ends proceedings on a burst of energy, with a soaring guitar-noise climactic freak-out; but one can’t help wondering whether this was really the album that Noel Gallagher set out to make when he contemplated a solo career, or just the one he settled for.

March 28, 2013 Posted by | Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds | , | Leave a comment

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)

noel_gallagher_high_flying_birds_album_cover_location_beverly_hillsFrom sputnikmusic.com

For the majority of the time since Oasis’ acrimonious split, Noel Gallagher managed to keep a fairly low profile. As sibling and eternal rival Liam swaggered his way through the formation of Beady Eye, a fashion label and the usual smattering of crass comments in the press, Noel kept silent and bided his time; emerging periodically to bat away questions about or dispense cryptic comments alluding to that last night in Paris.

During that time however, there was the sense that Noel now fancied himself as the wise old owl of British rock. Able to count Paul Weller as a close friend the elder, famous Gallagher brother appeared to have elevated himself above his station.

Even in an industry peppered with flashes in the pan and disposable icons, seven albums and a few collaborations does not a veteran make. With the announcement of his first official solo record this felt like the chance for Noel to prove once and for all why he has always been regarded as the driving force behind Oasis (certainly until Gem Archer was recruited at least).

Whichever way you look at it, it is impossible to escape the inevitable Oasis comparisons. As a result, you can’t help but wonder how many of the songs on offer were pilfered from sessions for any future albums Oasis had planned. One of Noel’s more reprehensible traits as a songwriter, the more desperate, anything-will-do couplets, stand out. “High time/summer in the city/the kids are looking pretty/but isn’t it a pity” he sings on “The Death Of You And Me.”

This is followed by “I wanna live in a dream/in my record machine” on the song of the same name. This isn’t 60s-style psychedelia. It doesn’t even make sense in a nonsensical way; it’s a return to the kind of lazy writing that hampered Oasis’ musical progress.

…but let’s try and talk about the music, not the weight of history and reputation. The music and lyrics, bar the two above examples, display a fresh, welcome renewal of the vitality that appeared to have escaped him in the preceding years. “Dream On”, whilst not exactly the most original Gallagher composition, has a spring in its step; drums that resonate clearly and a ‘big band’ feel that sounds like it was a lot of fun to create and record.

“If I Had A Gun” evokes a maudlin sense of wonder and lead single “The Death You And Me” is the sound of Noel wiping the slate clean and declaring the start of a new era, good-time trumpet solo and all. “(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach” is propelled forwards by crunchy chords and “AKA…Broken Arrow” is a blissful, ambient number with a playful side to it that exudes the notion of an artist currently in a very comfortable frame of mind.

The album’s centrepiece and standout track is the wonderful “AKA…What A Life!” The piano led groove is unobtrusively repetitious, the underlying tune replete with many layers, and the lyrics appear to hark back to quiet reflection upon the road Noel travelled to get where he is today; “It might be a dream but it tastes like poison” he tells us.

Noel has crafted one of those rare gems in an LP where every track is a potential single. Moreover, there are a number of moods evident. It shows much more talent and awareness than his brother’s latest effort. Noel Gallagher and his solo recording output cannot be judged on its own merit just yet, but a couple more records of this quality and his past might just slide away.

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds | , | Leave a comment

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)

noel_gallagher_high_flying_birds_album_cover_location_beverly_hillsFrom The Guardian

Among the more interesting stories to emerge from Oasis’ split was Noel Gallagher’s claim that he felt musically constrained by the band. He told Mojo magazine that any suggestion of altering Oasis’ sound would apparently cause Liam Gallagher to “start slinging shit around the room”, which certainly isn’t the least plausible of scenarios. Liam is, after all, a man who celebrated the fresh artistic start Oasis’ split afforded him by releasing a song called Beatles and Stones.

His brother, meanwhile, has been talking up his love of Ennio Morricone and techno auteur Derrick May, and employing a bloke to play a musical saw on his solo album. Expectations therefore run high, especially now he need not nurture the egalitarian urge to cede control of the songwriting and Let Ringo Have a Go, which accounted for at least some of the makeweight stuff on Oasis’ later albums. What might Noel come up with?

It’s true the opener, Everybody’s on the Run, sounds a bit more interesting than Oasis: it is beautifully orchestrated and features the massed voices of the Crouch End Festival Chorus. Alas, the arrangement is there to serve precisely the kind of song you would expect to turn up on a Noel Gallagher solo album: a wistful acoustic mid-tempo plod on which Gallagher repeatedly pleads with us to hold on, advice presumably aimed at anyone among his audience not already holding on following the repeated instruction to do so issued by Gallagher in Stop Crying Your Heart Out.

Or perhaps they’ve simply forgotten to hold on, in which case the fact that the exhortation to hold on is set to exactly the same four-note tune as it was in Stop Crying Your Heart Out should refresh their memories.

Not for the last time, the feeling that some of the advance publicity about Gallagher’s change of direction might be a little overheated comes creeping. There have been claims that Dream On represents a diversion into “Dixieland jazz”: it’s got a trombone on it – which in fairness is one trombone more than Oasis ever featured – but then so did The Floral Dance by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. Actually, it sounds a bit like the Kinks’ Dead End Street, as does Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks, trumpeted in some quarters as Gallagher’s move into protest song. It’s nothing of the sort: it sets its cap at a Kinksy social vignette, but as a lyricist Gallagher doesn’t have the acute focus to pull that kind of thing off.

Still, better a muddled attempt at emulating Ray Davies than the fearful sound of Noel in philosophical mode. That duly turns up on the closer, Stop the Clocks. “What if I’m already dead? How will I know?” he ponders. Well, you might finally stop writing lyrics like that, although I wouldn’t bank on it.

Maybe such complaints don’t really matter. All three songs have such indelible melodies that they carry you blithely along, indifferent to the shortcomings of the rest of the song, which may have been Gallagher’s big trick as a songwriter from the off: it’s not like anyone loved Definitely Maybe for its devastating originality or lyrical insight. And that turns out to be High Flying Birds’ big selling-point: it’s got less filler and more undeniable tunes than any recent Oasis album.

It’s also got a tantalising hint of musical progression: AKA … What a Life!, a house music-inspired thump, is built around a piano riff Gallagher has claimed is inspired by Rhythim Is Rhythim’s Haçienda classic Strings of Life, though it sounds just as much like the Rolling Stones’ We Love You. Either way, the important things are that, first, it’s a genuinely different kind of song to anything he has attempted before and, second, Gallagher’s melodic facility remains intact even when detached from his guitars and his well-thumbed collection of classic rock.

It’s hard not to wish there was more here like it: High Flying Birds pushes gently at some boundaries Gallagher might have considered kicking over altogether. Perhaps his trepidation has something to do with the relative commercial failure of his brother’s album with Beady Eye. Certainly, these days Liam sounds like he’s threatening, rather than promising, to release more material. Maybe the fear that he’d end up in a similar situation if he presented anything too radical reined Noel in: you can never underestimate the power of sibling rivalry. Maybe he’s saving the big push into unknown territories for his forthcoming collaboration with psychedelic collective Amorphous Androgynous. Or maybe this is as good as it gets. For now, it’ll do that it’s a more enjoyable album than Oasis’ latter-day catalogue.

At the risk of handing out some well-worn advice, anyone hoping to hear a radical departure might be recommended to hold on.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds | , | Leave a comment