Noel Gallagher flies high on his own
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Typically, Noel Gallagher is not one to be short on confidence. And preceeding the release of his first solo album, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, he was in typical high spirits. But he’s always in high spirits. He loves his work, he loves everything he does, at least in the moment, and he loves having control.
It’s part of his charm, and it’s part of what likely makes him infuriating to work with.
The last time Noel Gallagher had full control of a record was Oasis’ Be Here Now in 1997, which Gallagher himself has since referenced as essentially being “cocaine set to music.” After that, the Oasis-mania bubble burst, there was turnover in the band, and he leaned more on his brother Liam and new guitarist Gem Archer. Eventually, Andy Bell got back in the songwriting business too, and Oasis’ music began to climb out of the gutter, trading the occasional moment of old glory for full, complete works of brilliance that we saw on their last album, Dig Out Your Soul.
But, finally, Oasis is done, and Gallagher is back to filling entire records with his songs.
High Flying Birds finds Noel Gallagher with his hands on the reigns and in fine voice, to say the least. His voice has always had a sweet sensibility while retaining a certain force and edge, and here, he does what can be read as a victory — after 10 songs, Liam Gallagher’s voice isn’t missed. Oasis can be mourned, for sure, but this is not a “what’s missing” kind of listening experience. This is full and complete. Noel has been making music long enough to know what works and what doesn’t. He hasn’t written songs for his brother’s voice, working to fit himself in later. This is his show, beginning to end.
Gallagher has always worn the badges of his heroes with pride, and when he best spins that out into his own music, it feels like a warm homage more than a rip-off. And, like a less-insane Anton Newcombe, he knows how to pull a song together. If strings are needed, they’re deployed expertly, as on “If I Had a Gun.” If a little wurlitzer or electric piano would pick up “The Death of You and Me,” then he knows where to pop it in. A great example can be heard on “(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine,” a fantastic composition that show off not just his songwriting, but his craft as a studio musician, with the drums and instrumentation well recorded.
And, forgive the comparison, his leanings toward George Martin-style arrangements have never been on better display than here. It doesn’t seem that he’s going for an arena rock sound, but rather lush fills that work the balancing act between tasteful readings and epic vision.
High Flying Birds plays like a classic, even in its sequencing, with songs bleeding into each other, a trick left over from the last Oasis project. Where Dig Out Your Soul seemed more like a fun exercise in beat matching, this feels like a seamless work, the songs supporting each other and carrying the narrative.
Where Be Here Now showed absolutely no restraint and tried to find the promised land through 30 guitar tracks per three minutes, High Flying Birds is an album made by an inspired veteran, one who has long had the chops to pull off a singular vision. Without needing to compromise with the demands of equal-partner bandmates, Gallagher’s vision of a great record is realized here.
And let it be clear: this is a great record. Everything Noel Gallagher has ever done well, he does here. But beyond that, there’s a freshness that his music hasn’t had in more than a decade. Whether he was motivated by spite or revenge, or he was just sitting on a great batch of songs, is irrelevant. What matters, as always, is the work. This is an album that deserves to live on long past its release date.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org