Noel Gallagher, the songwriting half of the ever-quarreling Gallagher brothers, released his first proper solo album, Noel Gallagher’s High-Flying Birds, today. Well, it came out in the UK last month, but the US had to wait until today for its proper release.
Perhaps predictably, the album is bursting with Britpop flavor delivered with the precision and skill one might expect from a songwriter like Noel, who wrote some of the 1990s’ biggest and most memorable Britpop songs. While it’s true this album might lack a definitive Wonderwall, Champagne Supernova, or Live Forever, that doesn’t take away from its impact one bit.
Opener Everybody’s On the Run begins with a chorus of voices and an orchestral flourish, allowing Gallagher and his team of assembled musicians to drive home the point that this is an album meant to be taken rather seriously. Noel’s sweeping chorus of Hang in there love/ You’ve gotta hold on/Hang in there love/You’ve gotta hold on elevates the song’s overall feel to one of urgency and serves as a gorgeous introduction to Noel’s long-awaited and much-anticipated foray into the "solo artist" world.
Oasis broke up in 2009, Liam’s band Beady Eye quickly put out a debut album (ostensibly just to beat Noel to the punch), but Noel took his time, and it shows.
Dream On is driven by the type of beat that calls to mind Oasis songs like The Importance of Being Idle, among others. Dream On has a rich, engaging melody, the kind that Noel seems to be able to churn out with ease.
If I Had a Gun…, though, is arguably the finest song on this album, and one of the best Noel’s ever composed. If I had a gun/I’d shoot a hole into the sun/And love would burn this city down for you, Noel sings over some gentle guitar chords, before the song takes on “anthem” status. A simple vocal hook drives the song’s standout melody, as well as the chord progression. It’s not a world-changing song structurally, but it does the “Noel Gallagher emotional song” thing exceedingly well. Its cathartic feel and lyrical themes (it’s about love, simple as that) have the power to transport you back to the mid-1990s, when songs like this received the attention they deserved. This is the sort of number that Noel detractors/people who think his creative peak passed after (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? should hear.
Check out the video below.
The Death of You and Me also uses the same rhythmic feel as The Importance of Being Idle, but as the album's first single it boasts one of the strongest choruses, as well.
(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine is a tune Noel had been working on for years. Originally an Oasis b-side, the song is now much louder and dynamic than the tender acoustic song it once was. It was a good decision to re-vamp Record Machine for this album.
AKA…What A Life! brings with it a sense of urgency, mostly due to the propulsive piano plucks that combine with the percussion to give the song a grabbing, immediate feel. Noel again does the “sweeping vocal hook” thing here, and it pays off as well as it did with If I Had A Gun. Check out the 8-minute video below, and look for the offbeat cameo by Russell Brand.
AKA…Broken Arrow’s verse strips away the bells and whistles of elaborate instrumentation and choir-like vocals, allowing Noel and his guitar to take center stage. It’s a welcomed switch-up, and when the musical accompaniment returns for the memorable chorus the song is elevated to “album highlight” status. You might think you’ve heard this song before; the chorus is very Oasis-like, melody-wise, but it has the flourishes and accentuations that make up the definitive High-Flying Birds sound.
(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach, a bouncy, swaying jam finds Noel singing Oh, me oh my/I say so long, and baby bye-bye. The song has an almost country twang to it, and Noel tweaks his vocal delivery accordingly. It becomes a bit redundant to say “it has one of the album’s best melodies”, but it really does. He knows a thing or two about writing a catchy tune.
The album concludes with Stop the Clocks, another song Noel has been working on for years. Its pairing of pianos, a slow pace and Noel’s vocals calls to mind Let There Be Love (off Oasis’s 2005 album Don’t Believe the Truth). It’s a perfect album-capper: a dreamlike, atmospheric song that could be the soundtrack to a flight through the clouds, its melodies ascending and expanding with the aid of ethereal vocal choruses before coming back down to Earth for a jangly, horn-filled Britpop coda that serves as an exclamation point to the song’s sonic ups and downs.
(Note: This album has a handful of bonus tracks floating around on its various editions that can expand the track list, but the “standard” edition of the album ends with Stop the Clocks.)
Simply put, Noel Gallagher’s High-Flying Birds is probably the best thing he could have released as a first solo record. Oasis only disbanded two years ago, but Noel’s had some of these songs in the works for quite awhile. He has stated plans to release another album sometime next year, indicating that he still has a lot left in the tank, songwriting-wise.
As a lifelong Oasis fan, this is the album I was anticipating after he and Liam had their big fight in 2009. While they’ve hinted at burying the hatchet AGAIN and re-forming in 2015 for the 20th anniversary of Morning Glory (which would be great), this album shows that Noel is more than capable of continuing his musical legacy well past his original band's expiration date.
Noel might be a polarizing figure, due to his outspoken personality and penchant for saying colorful things, but you can’t deny his songwriting prowess. It shines throughout this album, which can hold its own pretty well against most Oasis records.
Enjoy the video for The Death of You and Me below.