Thursday, October 27, 2011

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds: A Track-By-Track Review Of The Debut Album

Are we gonna play that game? Are we going to do a riff on "Wibbling Rivalry" and give in to that Britpop-era nonsense?

On those terms, Liam wins. Period. Beady Eye rocked the house with Different Gear, Still Speeding. I think readers of this blog know how much I enjoy Liam, his tunes, his swagger, his attitude.

That said, it would be entirely unfair to pit the Gallagher brothers against each other when they're each doing different things.

Given his comfort since 1993 with letting Liam take the mike, Noel seems content to be thought of as a songwriter first and it's best to judge this record that way.

Noel Gallagher's debut solo album, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (2011), is out in America on 8 November -- (it's already out in England) -- and it's a remarkably consistent affair that pleases with a nice bit of easy charm.

This is not the debut of some earth-shaking combo. These are solid, well constructed ditties with a lot of melody delivered by one of the world's best songwriters.

It's a pleasantly modest affair and I think the media hype -- those daily fluff pieces on -- is probably making listeners expect too much, as if this was gonna be Oasis Mach 2, or something.

Judged against the songs Noel sang on recent Oasis albums, the cuts here beat those handily. Judged against what I consider the nadir of Oasis -- 2008's Dig Out Your Soul -- and this record scores as more enjoyable and memorable.

The 10 tunes here are all hummable and they fall somewhere between terrace anthems and mid-tempo rockers.

Well then, on to the tunes!

"Everybody's On The Run"

It's Floyd's "Us And Them" meets Weller. A languid near-ballad that wouldn't have sounded entirely out-of-place on Be Here Now. The tune is a wisp but it's buoyed by some production effects -- a choir? -- into almost-epic proportions.

"Dream On"

Easily my favorite song on Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, this cut has menace, punch, and bite. Noel needs to do more stuff like this. The incessant boot-stomp-sounding drums are a nice touch as well. What sounds like weariness at first soon turns into near-joy:

"Shout it out for me!" goes the refrain as the riffs jackhammer the melody home.

"If I Had A Gun..."

The familiar single that sounds quite a bit better in the context of the whole record. There's a touch of "Born On A Different Cloud" from Oasis here, though the bridge on this cut is more memorable.

"The Death of You And Me"

The almost shameless nod to Jon Brion -- that creaky wooziness straight from an Aimee Mann cut on the Magnolia (1999) soundtrack -- makes this first single such a delight. One of the most replayable cuts on the record.

"(I Wanna Live A Dream In My) Record Machine"

As the title was bandied about back in the waning days of Oasis, it's a pretty safe bet to say that this cut was written with Liam's voice in mind -- the hooks practically beg for the younger Gallagher brother's snarl. Still, not an entire misfire. Noel gives the cut his all and it rocks-and-sways in a sturdy fashion. Sure to be a good one during his live performances.

"AKA...What A Life"

There's a nice piano-bass-drum figure here that gives the song a radio-friendly vibe. For some weird reason, this composition sounds to me like what you almost wanted Pete Townshend to sing in the mid-1980s -- like a lost gem from 1985's White City or something.

"Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks"

An update -- improvement, really -- on "The Importance Of Being Idle" from Oasis, this ups the Kinks-isms in volume with a more forceful melody. A nice guitar line anchors the cut and it's a shade darker than that earlier song. The immaculate production here really highlights Noel's voice. Frankly, this is the direction he should go should he decide to remain a solo artist. Even the lyrics here are a good deal wittier than the rest of the record. The trumpet solo is also a plus.

"AKA...Broken Arrow"

A bit over-produced, this song is fairly radio-friendly -- think Weller during the Wild Wood (1993) era. Noel's vocals are good here, warm, understated, and natural sounding. There's a touch of solo Ian Brown on this one as well.

"(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach"

Sinister, Kasabian-like instrumentation gives this cut some edge. This is a pretty strong tune that would probably sound just as good with only Noel and his acoustic in the mix. Here, it's one of the highlights of the record and a sort of weird twin to "The Death of You And Me" with the whimsy replaced by weariness.

"Stop The Clocks"

Probably the best example of Noel's strengths as a lead vocalist since "Let Forever Be" by The Chemical Brothers, this is my 2nd favorite cut on Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. Yes, the title smacks of the Oasis era, but the tune is quite a bit different. Beatlesque but less cloying than "Whatever" or something from back then in the infancy of Oasis, "Stop The Clocks" is, oddly, similar to "The Morning Son" which closed the Beady Eye album. The difference is that this song builds considerably until it finally snaps in an orgiastic guitar freak-out where Liam's tune sort of faded away like the sound of the waves. For all their differences, the Gallagher brothers each ended their post-Oasis debut records in a similar fashion.

But that's where the similarity ends. This is a tidy package of tunes with the production elements almost afterthoughts. Noel sounds comfortable on his High Flying Birds release and the record portends his future success as a solo act. He's a good deal more confident here than I expected him to sound. With nothing as dour -- or dire -- as "Sunday Morning Call" or "Where Did It All Go Wrong?" in sight, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds proves my hunch that Noel was hiding a few aces up his sleeves the last few years before his band went bust.

Or he just tossed off these 10 charming tunes in the last year. If so, his talents are more considerable than I ever imagined.

Still, it's worth noting for long-time fans that of the two post-Oasis releases, this one sounds the most like Oasis. Sure, Liam's familiar nasal snarl was the spark on the Beady Eye record, but the surefire sing-a-long-ness of the old Oasis anthems wasn't there. Liam was leaping out into a new (band) venture while Noel here is reshaping his strengths for the delivery of a different end result.

(I said I wasn't gonna compare the brothers' work and here I am doing it!)

I guess what I'm getting at is that there will be a lot of Oasis fans quite happy to slide into these almost immediately familiar cuts. He's the less strident Weller on the majority of this. It's like if The Jam made an album's worth of "Fly" or another mid-period gem. Intimate without being precious or self-indulgent, Noel's crafted 10 little Britpop gems here.

Follow Noel Gallagher on his website:

Or on his Facebook page:

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds will be out in America on November 8, 2011.

You can get the CD from Amazon here, or you can get the deluxe CD/DVD edition from Amazon here, or you can get the MP3 album from Amazon here.

And check iTunes as well.