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Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

on November 08, 2011, 8:00am
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To call this record predictable may seem a disservice to the undoubted talents of Noel Gallagher. For this much-anticipated solo debut, the bar was set at strong tunes sung with passion, tight musicianship, big sound, full-on production, and echoes of the Oasis years. Well, you get all of that here. It’s a decent enough album with 10 rock-solid songs that come close to but never quite reach the elevation pitched by the album’s expressive title.

This work is best approached as Noel Gallagher in transit. Where it might lead is possibly more challenging, especially as a second (and quite different record) is promised to follow soon in the form of a collaboration with psychedelic tongue twist hipsters The Amorphous Androgynous. Meanwhile, what Gallagher has done with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is dust off a little unrealized Oasis material and combine it with new songs that are bounded by the artist’s natural mid-tempo territory. The tight, economical treatment given to most of the songs adds studio gloss and a sense of urgency. Anything in the way of indulgence is limited to the first and last minutes of the album, and each, in a quite different way, is carefully staged.

The swagger that brother Liam Gallagher has successfully imported into his new vehicle, Beady Eye, is matched here by Noel’s total confidence, shown in the expansive treatments given to these songs within contrastingly tight structures. From strident strings on the anthemic opener “Everybody’s on the Run” to New Orleans trumpets on the record’s standout track “The Death of You and Me”, the effect is that of an artist in total control. The former is also lit up by a string and choral minute-long prelude that delivers pure anticipation. As the song develops, you can just imagine it live on the big stage. With the band dynamics and several of the instruments now firmly in Gallagher’s hands, he can even play around with a dance tune, in the shape of the piano- and percussion-driven “AKA…What A Life!”

There are throwback moments on the disc as well. With the first line referencing the village green, there’s an instant nod to ’60s Brit popsters The Kinks in “Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks”. The descending melody lines of “Waterloo Sunset” or “Dead End Street” are echoed here, but the song gets a fulsome, strident production that tends to wash over the political point of the lyrics. Closer to Gallagher’s roots, it may be tempting to dismiss “If I Had a Gun” as a reloaded “Wonderwall”, but it’s much more than that. Lyrically, it’s surprisingly tender  – “Excuse me if I spoke too soon/My eyes have always followed you around the room” – and the melody wraps around you like a favorite jacket.

Gallagher includes two Oasis demos in “(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine” and “Stop the Clocks”, which closes the album. Both are perfectly serviceable but mainly qualify as too good to ditch. There may be a sense of exorcism also in the overdriven guitar and sax in the minute-long coda that concludes “Stop the Clocks”, providing symmetry of a kind with the overture that begins track one. Lyrically, the album seems to work around the notion of hope springing from escape, a sense of wanting to be somewhere else and striving to get there. Maybe that reflects Gallagher’s own solo journey so far. Let’s just hope he doesn’t find himself, to quote the penultimate track, “(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach”.

Essential Tracks: “The Death of Me and You”, “Everybody’s on the Run”, and “If I Had a Gun”

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