Noel Gallagher - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (Sour Mash)
While I haven’t taken the time to investigate Beady Eye, the other half of the Oasis split, and while it would be too didactic to simply call Noel ‘the good guy’; he always seemed – musically at least – a far more interesting character than Liam. After all, he was the chief songwriter for the large majority of Oasis’ back catalogue. The man whose alchemy was in taking a simple set of chords and binding them to an everyman appeal that struck the hearts and minds of a generation.
Of course that was then, this is now. During their slow but sure dissolve, it seemed Oasis were simply coasting on their past successes – their best days long since gone. It’s comforting then that if nothing else, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds proves that the man’s best moments aren’t just behind them. They’ve just been absent for a long time.
These ten tunes, presumably cherry-picked from a secret stash that’s been ever-growing since the 2008 swansong Dig Out Your Soul, are some of Gallagher’s best. Sonically, it subtly carries on that album’s colourful burr, but more closely harkens back to the focussed stomp of 2005’s Don’t Believe The Truth. In fact it features the same producer, old mate Dave Sardy, who presents a polished mix that deftly weaves in all the musical frills like horns, strings and for even - for one cut – a choir.
The focus here though is clearly on the songs themselves. Those hoping to glean some gossip or insight into the sibling rivalry, or the dissolution of Oasis, from them will be disappointed as Gallagher’s songwriting acumen remains resolutely idyllic. His simple rhyming patter makes a strong return, most obviously on the opening couplets of If I Had A Gun (“if I had a gun/I’d shoot a hole into the sun/and love would burn this city down for you”). His lyrical clichés are still rife – lots of ‘shining lights,’ and lots of ‘dreams’ and ‘love’ – but to be fair, it’s the same broad appeal that has always been part of the Oasis canon. What’s important here is the delivery, while it used to be Liam’s cock-sure drawl that delivered his words, through his own voice Noel gifts his lyrics with a sensitivity and tenderness that outstrips their plainness.
He’s still capable of a good facsimile of his brother’s stadium-sized wail, most notably on AKA… Broken Arrow, but it’s these moments that ape his past which represent the album’s weakest. Still occasionally strung with the same filler that plagued his former band’s laziest moments. The wholly obvious rock and roll hum of Dream On and the over-hyped anti-climax of the closing Stop The Clocks chief among them. Ironically, it’s when Gallagher strays away from his workmanlike style that he shines. The Death of You And Me delightfully recalls the influence of his beloved Beatles, while managing to sound like a British jig as seen through the hazy eyes of Americana. There’s even a drunken New Orleans ragtime that marches through the middle section. So too, Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks whose descending guitar pattern, rich sixties sound and pub-lite politics could have been plucked straight from one of The Kinks’ classic English-obsessed albums. AKA…What A Life! rounding out the hat-trick, channeling a brooding sense of drama astride a propulsive rhythm and a keen sense of melody.
As a whole, Noel Gallagher’s debut solo record manages to live up to its lofty expectations even as it doesn’t exceed them, just as it proves that he’s still relevant even if he’s no longer revelatory. It’s not essential listening, nor is it one of the year’s best; but more so, it’s a personal triumph. What could have been a trite affair that merely (if you’ll excuse the pun) flipped the bird at his estranged bandmates and baby brother, instead gracefully provides Gallagher’s best set of songs since his nineties (morning) glory days.