There was a time when I was pretty big fan of Oasis. I mean, I guess I still am really.
Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? are both exceptional albums, Be Here Now was decent if you take it for what it is, and Heathen Chemistry was a pretty good last gasp of relevance for a band that imploded under the weight of its own swagger.
However that implosion, inevitable since 1994, finally happened in 2009 and left fans with two competing factions from which to choose. Vocalist Liam Gallagher took most of the band and formed Beady Eye, while his brother and bandmate-slash-nemesis Noel went off to form Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.
Now, say what you will about Oasis being overrated, or piggybacking their success by pinching riffs and lyrics from British bands who came before them, because for the most part those things are true. However they’ve never once claimed to do anything other than that, and have been flatly honest about musical inspirations and where they came from.
And leading that charge was Noel, the undeniable creative force of Oasis. A gifted songwriter, decent guitarist, and serviceable vocalist who was behind the mic for some of the better things the band did in its waning years, it was he who was responsible for the best that the now-defunct Britpop kings produced for two decades.
Thus, it was with some excitement that I procured a copy of High Flying Birds, the self-titled debut of Noel’s post-Oasis solo project. Knowing that he was the only thread of hope for a band I grew up loving when they had long passed their expiration date made me think that this album could turn out alright.
You know what? It did.
A more mature sound
The album is reasonably solid if unspectacular, harkening to the more mature sound of later Oasis than to the mid-90s, guitar heavy band that had so much success. Where a blizzard of cocaine once fuelled Noel’s lengthy guitar solos and lyrical genius, it’s now about having experienced it all and come out the other side of it with some perspective.
Those loud guitars have been replaced with choirs and string arrangements, and it sounds pretty good. As Noel himself, never at a loss for creative descriptions, has put it: he’s simply done all the drugs there are to do, and music like this is the result.
Particularly enjoyable tracks include the leadoff tune, Everybody’s On the Run, a look at a relationship’s rocky moments and what it takes to keep things together, If I Had a Gun, perhaps the antithesis to Run where Noel pines for a love he can hardly take his eyes off of, and AKA…Broken Arrow, a particularly interesting piece of lyrical melancholia that has Noel feeling older than he is and worse than he figures he should.
Others don’t hit the mark quite as well. (I Wanna Live in a Dream In My) Record Machine is a mouthful and tries a little to hard to capture a wistful feel that simply doesn’t exist in music anymore.
Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks works to have something to say, but really doesn’t, and doesn’t even sound good doing it.
Stop the Clocks is a lost Oasis track that, while not awful, was best left buried with that part of Noel’s career. Could you really not cook up ten new songs for an album Noel? I don’t think that’s the case, but it sure looks like it with the inclusion of Clocks.
The long and short of this story is that if you are or were a fan of Oasis, this album is the best thing a Gallagher has done in ten years. It’s a more mature sound, and it’s different than what Noel Gallagher of 1995 would have produced on his own, but that’s not a bad thing. It shows that, without the interference of his brother and less-talented bandmates, Noel can still produce a decent piece of music that does a lot more to satisfy than it does to disappoint.
You can’t ask anymore than that from a guy.