Three years ago, we found ourselves pretty disappointed in Dig Out Your Soul, the most recent Oasis studio album, and one that the fans by and large seem to accept as one of the better ones. Holding it up to the standard set by the band’s first three albums, I essentially called it lazy and boring, and I even used the word spoiled.
In 2009, Gallaghers Noel and Liam’s legendary feuding finally split the band for good, and it’s hard to believe it’s already been two years since then that we’ve been waiting to compare both brothers’ inevitable next releases. With Noel out of the picture, Liam and the rest of Oasis’ blatant Beatles recycling could carry on unchecked as Beady Eye, who released an underwhelming album earlier this year.
But on November 8th, Noel will release a solo album, entitled Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, and we’re relieved to report that at least one member of Oasis, one of the greatest bands of the 90s, is still capable of impressing us. Co-produced by Dave Sardy, High Flying Birds is everything we wished in vain that each of the last four Oasis albums might be, and even the outtakes are better than anything on the Beady Eye album. In fact the only real complaint is that some of said outtakes weren’t squeezed onto the 42-minute disc, rather than saved for B-sides or back-alley downloads.
No songs on this album would be called called lazy or boring, and it is by no means the work of a spoiled band dialing in the same old formula. No, it’s not experimental dubstep witch house; you could slip Wonderwall in anywhere on this album without disrupting the flow. But Noel Gallagher always had the unique ability within the band to write a song that hadn’t already been written, and just as he had been the sole force holding Oasis back from becoming The Beatles II, Oasis had been holding Noel back from bringing us Oasis II.
Backed up by a grand piano, string section and synth harmonies, the grand anthem Everybody Is On The Run kicks off the album while boldly setting the stage for a focused collection of richly layered songs. Some work better than others; Dream On and (I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine are, as you might imagine, a little too fruity for frequent repeat plays. But none of these ten tracks are altogether bad, and in fact some are perfect.
If I Had A Gun… is the first such perfect track. The tone of the opening guitar riff is sure to inspire others besides me to call it Wonderwall Jr., and it has inherited some of those ever so radio-friendly genes; a love song of vague nature, catchy bridge, immortal hook, lyrics describing various absurd scenarios impossible to interpret literally. It’s directly followed by The Death Of You And Me, an equally flawless, majestic pop ballad, with jangling horns and saloon piano punctuated by crashing cymbals that make the setting of the accompanying video thoroughly inevitable:
AKA… What A Life is positioned as a sort of sequel by its video, picking right up where The Death Of You And Me’s leaves off, though on the album the two songs are split by I Wanna Live In A Dream, the aforementioned ode to smiles and rainbows and such. The complementary tracks work a bit better back to back, however, as in that configuration What A Life takes things down into a darker, faster zigzag right when The Death Of You And Me has you wondering if its ending was happy or not.
Soldier Boys And Jesus Freaks refers to cliché politicians, but they’re there to provide a contemporary setting rather than to be scapegoats for some overwrought political message; No, Noel is too classy for that sort of mucking around, as the song eventually comes to focus on a girl that is of course more interesting than anything any government has ever said. That is how it’s supposed to go when you write from the heart rather than the brain.
The grandeur is dialed back a bit between AKA… Broken Arrow and (Stranded On) The Wrong Beach. While neither go completely without, both go at least a little lighter on the strings and layers. Broken Arrow is the more upbeat of the two, driven by guitar rather than piano and just not leaving much room for adornment. Meanwhile, The Wrong Beach relies on a dirty, swaggering riff, over which a cocky Noel drawls: “Oh me oh my, say so long baby bye bye / Pour me one for the road / It’s a long journey baby / Where it’s gonna take me just depends on the weight of my load…” I ignorantly used the word British as a derogatory term in my Oasis review, and, well, this one’s just so… American.
The closing track Stop The Clocks is a bit of a grower, with 4 minutes mostly comprised of dreamy noodling under singsongy poetry… Then there’s an outro that sort of makes it all work; Everything comes crashing down in a manic, squealing cacophony that contrasts enough to remind you that it was just one side of a multifaceted album, chaotic enough to leave you feeling like the album stopped not because the artist ran out of steam, but because the instruments were simply used to death.
I’d happily trade a song or two on the retail version of High Flying Birds with B-sides Alone On The Rope and Let The Lord Shine A Light On Me, and I might even call that imaginary version perfect. But even as-is, High Flying Birds is a damn fine album, which re-establishes Noel Gallagher as a force to be reckoned with, and helps us to bid farewell to the Oasis that was. And who knows, maybe a couple people out there can stop complaining that it isn’t 1997 anymore.
Photo by Chris Hyde.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.