At this point, talking about a new Noel Gallagher album isn’t about one brother versus the other, or either/both versus Oasis. All of that tired topical pontificating may continue to sputter out of the stinking maws of morning FM radio DJs convinced they’re still living in a decade where it’s a relevant discussion, but it’s best for the rest of us to move on and recognize that if Noel Gallagher wasn’t the fountainhead back then, he is today.
This year’s Chasing Yesterday is his second solo album post-Oasis, and the title suddenly seems like a silly understatement as I type it out. I could make fun of it if the album was coming from some has-been trying to reclaim a long-lost magic, but the first High Flying Birds album was better than anything Noel has been involved with in over 15 years, and this one’s even more consistently impressive. Yesterday didn’t really have a chance. There’s also a pile of B-sides & demos next to those two LPs, and all but a handful of the 40 or so tracks songs recorded in about four years are all brilliantly written, royal-class English rock songs, near-perfect or better.
A lot has been said about the appearance of saxophone on the album, particularly in the opening track Riverman. It’s fun to talk about it, surely. The song was inspired by Brian Protheroe’s Pinball, a 70s single, sax and all, that none other than Morrissey turned Noel onto, one crazy night out in LA with Russell Brand in tow. (Compare the two tracks for an invaluable crash course in the kind of creative stealing that true artists will never face charges for.) Noel has also name-checked Pink Floyd’s Dick Parry in his defense of the sax. But when all is said and done, it’s not really the radical, risky move that people are making it out to be. It fits perfectly. Perhaps my growing up with Dark Side Of The Moon and Sade is a factor here, but I didn’t even blink when I first heard it. I was already comparing it not to Oasis’ comparatively limited arsenal, but to the classic albums with richer tapestries that it more fairly competes with.
While the first album had a few songs with fairly clear roots leading back to Oasis’ hugest trademarks, Chasing Yesterday wanders farther out, more confidently continuing down not only new paths laid by tracks like What A Life from the first album, but also in the footsteps of classic archetypes as in the Bowie-esque Girl With X-Ray Eyes, and the brooding, humid nod to T-Rex The Right Stuff, one of the album’s most immersive surprises.
Above all, it’s that consistency that is Chasing Yesterday’s biggest strength. When the first album came out, I cobbled together a more perfect version of it, by removing a couple of the weaker tracks and replacing them with some underrated outtakes. There’s no need for tinkering with this one. Granted, at least two of the five bonus tracks scattered across various deluxe editions could have been among the album’s absolute best cuts; Perhaps the time had passed for Freaky Teeth, one of the first “new” songs unveiled years ago now, in rough form, at live shows in support of the debut, but it’s downright cocky to place a track like Do The Damage behind the counter so to speak, the type of hit any other band would cash out with.
It’s not often enough that every track of an album hits the mark, and it’s not often enough that an artist’s second album ups the ante after a great debut. Even the best songwriters of his generation have faltered in their middle age, if not run out of inspiration completely, but Noel Gallagher is proving to be a stronger creative force than ever before. And he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
the first High Flying Birds album was better than anything Noel has been involved with in over 15 years, and this one's even more consistently impressive.