To the casual music listener, the name Noel Gallagher most likely elicits warm memories of the Oasis hit “Wonderwall.” The band, formed in 1991 in rainy Manchester, England, has become more commonly known for the bickering between the two front-men, Gallagher and his brother Liam. After several shutdowns and brawls, Oasis finally split for good in 2009. All of the band members except for Noel regrouped as Beady Eye and released their debut album earlier this year. Instead of sitting back and watching his brother’s continued success, Noel Gallagher decided to pursue a solo path.
The fruit of his labors, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, is a comprehensive but extremely accessible album that harnesses Gallagher’s discontent and uses it for lyrical precision. It is a compact little album that doesn’t allow much time for thought, honing in on his rebellious rock roots with colossal tracks that seem predestined for arena-filling greatness. Although at times repetitive, Birds represents the guitarist’s reinvention process that doesn’t stray far from his Oasis days.
Gallagher said in an interview shortly after quitting Oasis that he felt sonically restrained by his band mates, but on Birds, some of the tracks sound almost pleadingly like tracks the Grammy winning group could have released in its heyday. “Dream On” could have been the first single off the group’s eighth album, a plunking, tambourine-laden ditty that would inevitably weasel its way into Target’s holiday ad campaign come this winter were it not for lyrics like, “One day at a time, I’m hiding from the razor blade.” It is similar to the Kinks in its restrained but nevertheless pleasant sound, one in which Gallagher struggles to make a vocal impact. Indeed, he mentioned in a recent interview with British music magazine NME that “I struggled to sing [some songs] in the studio…I couldn’t decide to sing it out or sing it quiet.”
It’s a shame, really, that all of the songs aren’t as growly and impactful as “If I Had a Gun,” which alternates between quietly melodic – a range previously unexplored by the Brit – and scathingly scratchy. Likewise, tracks like “The Death of You and Me” and “(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine” reflect a duality to his voice, itself demonstrating Gallagher’s willingness to change and mature in pursuit of experimentation.
Other songs represent a resounding growth for the musician. For years, Gallagher has been the most artistically inclined musician to emerge from the UK, adeptly toeing the line between the thickheaded charm of U2’s recent works and the audacious originality of Queen. For instance, on the album’s best track, “AKA … What a Life!” Gallagher deconstructs a house music-inspired thump that peeks out from behind the glorious, up-tempo piano he claims was inspired by the classic, “Strings of Life.” The result sounds much like something the Rolling Stones might create today if tasked with crafting a club-banger, a snaking and complex number that’s chorus will wriggle its way into listener’s minds forever.
Opening number “Everybody’s On the Run” contains elements of Elbow in its swelling orchestra. It is the best showcase for Gallagher’s no-longer-overshadowed voice, an instrument with a sort of throaty swagger that occasionally seems overly polished and produced, startling for a musician whose acoustic and live work is his most critically acclaimed.
One expects stunning lyricism from Gallagher’s solo debut – after all, he was the man behind all of Oasis’ written magic. His attempts at deep, soul searching moments are lost in musical translation on songs like “Solider Boys and Jesus Freaks,” an otherwise catchy number that plods on with its political agenda. At most, it lays out the bare bones of Gallagher’s ideals without ever fleshing them out, a blueprint of a song that professes, “God may soon explode and there is no place we might hide.”
Nonetheless, for an album that is almost exactly what listeners expect it to be, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds far outweighs the accomplishments of Beady Eye’s debut. It occasionally reaches for experimental greatness, but more frequently, Gallagher dives headfirst into safer, rollicking songs that come as a comfort to fans of the once-great band that is no more.