Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
US: 3 Mar 2015
UK: 2 Mar 2015
“Lots of groups come back and it doesn’t really set the world alight. Even diehard fans are slightly unenthused. Yet it is a weird idea that simply because you are past a certain age you stop. This isn’t the 1950s, the era of the teenager, any more. I always think of the old blues men carrying on making music and having children until they are 80. Pop music doesn’t have to be a fleeting, age-related thing either.”
—Graham Coxon, in an interview with The Guardian on the subject of Blur’s The Magic Whip.
If I’m to fall
Would you be there to applaud?
Or would you hide behind them all?
Because if I am to go,
In my heart you’ll grow,
and that’s where you belong.
—Oasis, “I’m Outta Time”, from 2008’s Dig Out Your Soul, the final Oasis album.
Three months into 2015 and the world has been subjected to both a new Noel Gallagher album as well as the news that Blur is putting out a new record, their first since 2003’s Think Tank, entitled The Magic Whip. From the My Bloody Valentine reunion LP two years ago to the unearthed studio instrumentals that Pink Floyd released as an ostensible album at the end of 2014, a general message continues to thrive in the world of music: Nothing Ever Has to End. Reunions have become a regular occurrence; 2015 alone can count Blur, Sleater-Kinney, and Swerverdriver to its name, and one has good reason to leave those will be far from the last instances of “getting the band back together” this year.
Of course, 12 (Blur) or ten (Sleater-Kinney) years isn’t necessarily a huge amount of time. In the case of the latter, the wait was actually quite worth it, as No Cities to Love is one of the year’s sharpest rock LPs. Unfortunately, most reunion LPs veer closer to Chinese Democracy territory than anything close to No Cities to Love; see the entirely underwhelming m b v for a case in point. In that instance, My Bloody Valentine made the classic mistake of thinking that there needed something to be said after a titan of a record like 1991’s Loveless, which on its own has a legacy that very few bands in the history of rock have ever topped.
Amidst the sea of reunions, Noel and Liam Gallagher have remained (thankfully) steadfast, or at least cynical and sarcastic, in their insistence that an Oasis comeback will not happen. Instead, they’ve both taken to various new projects: where Liam up until recently had Beady Eye, Noel has his High Flying Birds, who debuted with their self-titled record back in 2011. But while the famously quibbling siblings appear to have no plans to come back together as a (barely) amicable duo, the music they have carried on in making sounds more than a little bit like Oasis. On the aptly titled Chasing Yesterdays, the second Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds outing, the track “The Girl With the X-Ray Eyes” straight-rips from the Oasis B-side “The Masterplan”. Both Beady Eye and these High Flying Birds do have some differences from Oasis’ rock formula, but the general air of that Britpop juggernaut’s music has never really left the brothers Gallagher.
To be fair, it’s not that Oasis left off on such a bad note. Although the critical consensus has more or less settled on the narrative that after the bloated attempt to assert global musical dominance that was 1997’s Be Here Now the band went into a decline, there’s some real gold to be found between that record and the so-so 2008 farewell Dig Out Your Soul. For this critic’s money, the utterly maligned Heathen Chemistry (2002) is actually one of Oasis’ best, contrary to the general opinion that is brilliantly summed up by Grantland‘s Steven Hyden, who calls it “an album so inconsequential that you can’t see it when you hold it up to most mirrors.”
Chasing Yesterday, much like Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, carries on in this post-Be Here Now legacy of the Gallaghers, and it does so mostly inoffensively. But therein lies the problem. Aside from the misfire that is 2000’s Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, Oasis never put out a thoroughly bad record. The luster of What’s the Story (Morning Glory?) has long since faded, no doubt, but the Gallaghers, particularly Noel, have still proven quite adept at writing a rock tune. The High Flying Birds do prove to be a capable outlet for Noel to keep on keeping on with this kind of songwriting: see Chasing Yesterday‘s lead single “In the Heat of the Moment”, whose simple but effective “na na nas” and soaring chorus vocal make it one of Noel’s best in recent memory. That being said, that a legacy managed to not end poorly is no reason to continue treading the ground it had already sunk its footprints deep into.
Noel already tipped his hand when he told Rolling Stone this about the recording process: “The last record was produced by a professional producer, and it sounded expensive. This one was produced by me, so it’s more rough around the edges. It’s got more character. And there’s a bit more guitar action on this one, where the last one was very choral and symphonic. Apart from that, they’re fucking identical.” With encouraging phrases like “fucking identical” and “sounded expensive” coming from the man responsible for writing the music, one would be forgiven for coming into the LP not expecting much of anything. And, in the end, not much is given. Moody midtempo numbers like “The Dying of the Light” and “The Right Stuff” are damn near interchangeable. They aren’t bad tracks, per se; on their own, they are, to use Hyden’s words, “totally adequate”. You might bob your head to a few of these tunes. You might even have a hook get stuck in your head for a half day or so (most likely, it’ll be “In the Heat of the Moment”). But it’s no stretch to say that if you’ve heard Oasis’ last two studio affairs, Dig Out Your Soul and Don’t Believe the Truth (2005), you’ve heard most if not all of Chasing Yesterday.
In an age where much-ballyhooed reunions are becoming so recurrent as to be banal, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds occupy a unique space. On the one hand, they aren’t exactly chasing yesterday; although both Flying Birds records owe a lot to Oasis, they don’t so much actively mine from that catalogue as they carry on the sound Noel is deeply acquainted with at this point. Hell, had Noel and his Birds chased the past, they’d at least be trying to build momentum in a certain direction, rather than the passive continuation of an already-established style.
Chasing Yesterday, despite alluding to the framework of time in its title, is an album of no time: not interested enough to truly mine from the past, seemingly incapable of moving forward with new ideas, and too stuck in old rhythms to be called music of its time. Noel Gallagher has basically made an album with the format of a random Oasis song generator. Sure, there’s a friendly and even inviting familiarity to this brand of rock ‘n’ roll, but there’s not a lot of reason to dive into a set of new tunes when all they do is point you to the shadow of the classics that loom over them.
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