Noel Gallagher’s solo career has been in demand for over fifteen years. Deemed by many to be the talent and creative force behind former band Oasis, he has been urged by press and fans alike to go it alone since long before the group’s ludicrously spectacular implosion back in 2009. And now, under the moniker Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, he has finally given in to demand and released his debut album.
Within a few seconds of opener ‘Everybody’s On The Run’, it is clear that Gallagher is not content with making “just another Oasis record”. Gone is the predictable crunch of overdriven guitars, and instead we are hit with a rousing ensemble of choir and orchestra which makes you momentarily wonder whether you’ve downloaded the latest Hollywood film score by mistake. Eventually, the strings die down, and for the first time we hear Gallagher’s vocals – clear, fresh and surprisingly aggressive – as he launches into the type of soaring melody for which he is famous. Anyone who thought this would be a half-hearted foray into life as a solo artist needs to think again.
The theme continues throughout the first half of the album, as the heart-tugging ballads just keep on coming. ‘If I Had A Gun…’ is a plaintive love song with a weaving melody that would have dominated the charts in the days when people still bought rock music, whilst lead single ‘The Death Of You And Me’ is reminiscent of 2005’s ‘The Importance Of Being Idle’ before it erupts into a triumphant trumpet solo. But what sets this album apart from latter day Oasis is that Gallagher refuses to take himself too seriously. Sprinkled in between the more intense material are unashamedly nonsensical ditties such as ‘Dream On’, with its deliriously stupid bridge of “la la la”s. And how can a song called ‘(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine’ not be euphorically escapist?
Despite the quality, the first five tracks do seem in danger of being overproduced. With brass, strings, keyboards and choir seemingly flying at you from all angles, it can all get a bit overwhelming, but fortunately the more restrained piano-rock of ‘AKA… What A Life!’ heralds a more reflective second half to the album. It is followed by the provocatively titled ‘Soldier Boys And Jesus Freaks’, with a combination of sinister tone and jaunty arrangement that typifies Gallagher as a songwriter. It is also probably the best lyric on the record – managing to stay observational rather than didactic. And even as the opening of ‘AKA… Broken Arrow’ threatens the onset of the dreaded “filler”, another monumental chorus explodes out of nowhere to transform it into an album highlight. The ill-advised glam rock of ‘(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach’ is perhaps a minor aberration, before closer ‘Stop The Clocks’ provides an eerie, haunting, yet strangely uplifting finale.
And with one final, mildly psychotic guitar solo, one of the most anticipated albums of a generation comes to an end. With it comes a slightly saddening realisation that the glories of mid-90s Oasis haven’t been, and never will be recreated, but did we really want to hear a 44-year-old millionaire singing rock songs about working class oppression? What we have instead is a collection of uplifting, emotionally engaging songs that can lift your mood on the darkest of days. All in all, the album represents Noel Gallagher’s return to his very, very best.