PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

The name on the album spine should be a dead giveaway that despite token experimentalism, there won't be much beyond the sort of pop/rock formalism Noel Gallagher peddled as the chief songwriter for Oasis to be found here.


Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Label: Sour Mash
US Release Date: 2011-11-08
UK Release Date: 2011-10-17
Amazon
iTunes

When Britpop’s leading group Oasis imploded in 2009 following one final blow-up between eternally quarreling siblings Noel and Liam Gallagher, it was somewhat surprising that bandmates Gem Archer and Andy Bell would elect to throw their lot in with the latter of the two to form Beady Eye. Of the pair, Liam is the more volatile: easy to rankle, quick to anger, and infamous for resorting to physical violence to settle disputes. Regardless of whatever the cause of the break might have been or who may have been at fault, the aftermath left Noel, Oasis’s lead guitarist and primary songwriter, without an outlet for his material.

Considering this is a man who has incessantly boasted for close to two decades about his songwriting prowess, it was inevitable that Noel Gallagher would find a way to get his latest batch of songs out there in some fashion. It would be reasonable to say that the public (in Britain, at least), concurs with Gallagher’s self-assessment. Evidently viewing him as the true talent from Oasis compared to his little brother and his old sidemen, British consumers have responded accordingly at the sales counters. Noel’s debut solo LP has noticeably emerged to a better reception than Beady Eye has mustered with its output so far, topping the UK Albums Chart upon release and already spinning off two Top 20 pop singles. Given the reception, it looks like Liam’s floated idea for a 2015 Oasis reunion to commemorate the 20th anniversary of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? isn’t something Noel will be attentively mulling over any time soon.

The clumsily titled Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is only half-heartedly positioned as more than a mere solo project. There’s no question that the man is firmly in charge here, freed up from having to share top billing with his singing sibling. Eschewing the sort of heads-down, group shout-along rock ‘n' roll anthems Oasis (Liam in particular) always favored, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds focuses on the songwriter’s other well-trod creative stomping areas, bouncy psychedelic pop and balmy balladry. Bolstered by full-bodied and warm production that suggests Gallagher’s legendary self-confidence has not been diminished one iota in the two years since his group’s demise, these ten songs are augmented with loads of strings, brass, and backing singers wherever possible, with touches of electronica production tricks that suggest a newfound sense of experimentalism.

Well, experimental for Noel Gallagher. Though Gallagher has expressed adoration for everything from grunge to Krautrock to trip-hop over the years, Oasis’ repertoire was strictly defined by extremely catholic classic rock reference points. If there was no guitar, no hook, and no giant chorus, the band didn’t give a toss. Gallagher continues to follow a musical gameplan dictated by the very rigid parameters of what the songwriter considers to be emblematic of great rock music. So as in past offerings, the album is built upon sing-song melodies reliant on repetitive two- or four-bar phrases, simplistic rhyme schemes (“If I had the time / I’d stop the world and make you mine”) that aim for universality over profound meaning, and plodding, strident rhythms that exhibit a dearth of syncopation. The most bounce you get is in the rootsy shuffles found in the likes of “The Death of You and Me”, but that tune is just aping the more baroque side of the Kinks and the Beatles, two of Gallagher’s chief idols and most transparent influences (not to mention owning a more direct debt to the verses from Oasis’ “The Importance of Being Idle”). Song structures follow predictable verse/chorus formats, and bridges like that in “(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine” only ratchet up linear emotional sensation instead of veering into new directions. “Stop the Clocks”, a scrapped Oasis tune that Gallagher has resurrected for his new project, at least throws in prechoruses that lead to satisfying explosions of blatantly psychedelia-redolent soloing.

True, it’s not like anyone should be anticipating any new tricks from the proudly formalist Gallagher at this stage. Observers have known not to expect him to deviate too much from his formula ever since the overcooked Be Here Now (1997) proved to even Oasis’ most optimistic advocates that the band’s idea of a sonically ambitious record involved little more than making all the songs over five minutes long and adding unnecessarily excessive amounts of guitar overdubs. However, this record won’t dispel the popular notion that Noel’s Midas touch was depleted writing the first two Oasis albums. The next “Live Forever” or “Wonderwall” certainly isn’t found here, but you do get “AKA... Broken Arrow”, a song that heavily trades on “Wonderwall” for ideas. “(Stranded on) The Wrong Beach” is another glaring example of how limited Noel’s bag of tricks is as it cribs the lapping waves tide sound effect from “Champagne Supernova” for its conclusion. Even when he’s trying to experiment, Gallagher can only stretch so far. Noel spoke in a Quietus interview of trying to evoke acid house in the single “AKA... What a Life!”, his acceptable stab at indie dance, but filtered through his sensibilities the track ends up more akin to an offering by Oasis-worshipping Brit rock group Kasabian.

Even with all the bells and whistles, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is not much more than what one would expect given the name on the artwork -- and sure, that will suit many potential purchasers perfectly fine. Beneath the shiny new ear candy, the album pedles the same sort of passable exercises in Gallagher’s patented populist songcraft that have populated the last decade’s worth of Oasis LPs, with the main difference being the boorish laddishness embodied by Liam is totally absent (one of the album’s virtues is that it reminds listeners that Noel has a fine if undistinguished singing voice, a talent that was understandably underutilized in Oasis in favor of his brother’s grittier and more expressive vocal abilities). It’s a slight departure from Noel’s usual pub and football terrace-friendly fare, but only just, and absence of Liam in front of the microphone instantly leaves the potential of the material to surpass its average nature untapped, since it was his cocksure delivery that often made latter-day Oasis any interesting. Long-starved Oasis fans can take solace in the notion that although there’s no chance of Gallagher returning to his mid-’90s creative peak, he’s maintaining his brand with a sincere stab at variance at least.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.