Monday, February 23, 2015

Chasing Yesterday: A Track-By-Track Review Of The New Album From Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

On March 2, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds will release Chasing Yesterday. I've heard the record -- legally, I might add -- and I'm gonna give you my thoughts.

The short version of this review should read like this: the songs on Chasing Yesterday are infinitely more melodic, catchy, and interesting than anything on the first record from Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds nearly 4 years ago. Back then, in late 2011, Noel had been considerably upstaged by his brother. I spent a part of my review of the first Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds record admitting how much I loved the first Beady Eye record. That wasn't an attempt to stir up memories of the Gallaghers' feuding but, rather, just my honest expression of surprise at how good Different Gear, Still Speeding was. Noel, in 2011, didn't seem to have the fire his brother had, for lack of any other way to describe the vibe then.

Well, things are different now.

And, to his credit, Noel has tightened things up this time out. Chasing Yesterday is a collection of 10 solid, concise rockers largely showcasing Noel's considerable gifts for constructing hooks. Rarely does anything on Chasing Yesterday overstay its welcome; there's nothing over 6 minutes, and quite a lot under 4, so that's awesome.

I used to joke back in 1997 how Be Here Now would have been a masterpiece if every song's length was cut in half. Well, Chasing Yesterday is very nearly the sort of record I was imagining when I made that quip.

So let's start the rundown of the 10 tracks on Chasing Yesterday by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds.

"Riverman"

A deceptive opener, "Riverman" is a near-bluesy number that has a sort of lopping beat. I hate to say it but take it anyway you want: this is almost what I'd call a really good Eric Clapton song...if Eric had any sense of song-craft anymore. And, weirdly, there's the barest hint of the "Wonderwall" melody buried in this one. I say that but it's not something I even noticed on my first few listens of this album opener.

"In The Heat of the Moment"

A cut you've probably already heard by now, the song is a nice, slightly scuzzy Keith Richards-style rocker. If the lads in Oasis had ever tackled "Bitch" by the Rolling Stones it might have ended up like this.

"The Girl with the X-Ray Eyes"

A fantastic song, "The Girl with the X-Ray Eyes" manages to recall both Paul Weller and stuff from Noel's one-time band-mate Andy Bell's band Ride. An ascending melodic figure that contrasts with the track's shuffling beats, this is one of the highlights of Chasing Yesterday for me. Add in a George Harrison-style guitar solo and you've got another reason to love this one. And all that's not to mention that it sounds a bit like "Where Did It All Go Wrong?" from Standing on the Shoulder of Giants (2000) but with a much stronger melodic hook.

"Lock All the Doors"

Finally, Solo Noel lets loose like he did, on occasion, in Oasis! "Lock All the Doors" rocks like "My Big Mouth" by Oasis. This is, quite simply, probably the closest that Noel Gallagher has come to penning an outright Big Oasis Tune since he's officially gone solo. Aces!

"The Dying of the Light"

A slow-burner, "The Dying of the Light" sounds a lot like stuff on the first record from Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, especially "If I Had a Gun..."

"The Right Stuff"

A bit funky and jazzy, "The Right Stuff" sees Noel broaden his horizons a bit. The tinkling keyboards and the soulful backing vocals add a lot to this one. If another track on this album sounds like Roxy Music (see below), this song sounds like solo Bryan Ferry. It might not be a coincidence that Bryan had a song with the same title with Noel hero Johnny Marr on guitar back in 1987. Could that have been Noel's inspiration for this album track?

"While the Song Remains the Same"

Excellent vocals from Noel on this track help make "While the Song Remains the Same" another highlight of Chasing Yesterday. Noel's guitar-work here even sounds like -- gasp! -- George Benson. It's an odd mix of elements but this is another fantastic cut that shows that Mr. Gallagher is (finally) willing to experiment a bit more with his established sound.

"The Mexican"

A hard little riff anchors "The Mexican" and the song chugs along with some nice familiarity. The horn sample in the background is a fine touch.

"You Know We Can't Go Back"

Perhaps the title is a nod to brother Liam? Who knows? My money's on an Oasis reunion sometime in the next 2 years or so. Regardless of the inspiration for the title, "You Know We Can't Go Back" is a fantastic, instantly catchy song with a damn near-perfect New Order-like bass-and-drum-beat holding things down. Surging, melodic, and summery, "You Know We Can't Go Back" is one of the best things Noel's ever sung on. Hands down better than anything on the first record from Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, this one is a surefire single as far this fan is concerned.

Hell, Noel Gallagher sounds 15 years younger here!

"The Ballad of the Mighty I"

Another rocker, "The Ballad of the Mighty I" is Noel sounding happy and yearning on the chorus. And it's an enormous chorus, isn't it? Surprisingly direct and tuneful, this one is another highlight of Chasing Yesterday for me. Something in the production recalls late period Roxy Music but the song is entirely more straightforward than anything they did in the 1980s. If this is Noel's attempt at writing a big hit (again), then I'm okay with it.

In the perfect world, "The Ballad of the Mighty I" would be played on Top 40 radio with everyone singing along to it on their car radios.

Overall, Chasing Yesterday is better than Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (2011). Not only that, but some cuts here -- "The Ballad of the Mighty I", "Lock All the Doors", etc. -- are as good as a lot of the stuff that Noel wrote in Oasis. I can't over-emphasize how much I enjoyed Chasing Yesterday when compared to 2011's Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

And it's virtually impossible to deny the spectre of Oasis as it is hanging over anything Noel touches these days but, so be it. Judging by Chasing Yesterday, it would appear that Noel has made peace with his legacy and embraced it. Forward-looking, this record capitalizes on Noel's strengths as a songwriter and expands upon what he's so good at. And even with those pushes into new directions for Noel as a musician, there are still enough big hooks here to please even the most jaded of Oasis fans and that's saying something.

Speaking for myself, the slight disappointment I felt in 2011 when hearing Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds seems silly now 'cause, yeah, obviously Noel Gallagher has still got the chops. The tunes here are lively, concise, and full of musical muscle. This is a record to be played loud, for the most part, and I am very thankful as a fan that Noel has got the fire again on Chasing Yesterday.

Chasing Yesterday by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds will be out on March 2.

Find out more via the official Noel Gallagher website:
www.NoelGallagher.com