Noel Gallagher’s productivity under the moniker of solo outfit the High Flying Birds demonstrates his musicianship and progressing showmanship since Oasis split up in 2009. The third album released under this name pushes his success and the consistency of his post-Oasis output into new territory with a set of songs recorded outside his typical writing and recording playbook. Who Built the Moon? was written and recorded with Irish electronic musician and producer David Holmes and results in an album as deep as both Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Chasing Yesterday but faster-paced and experimental, incorporating tape loops and exciting arrangements.
With a release date within two months of brother Liam Gallagher’s first proper solo album As You Were, comparisons have been rife, and prospects of an Oasis reunion frequently asked in interviews. Altogether the notion of a reunion has grown louder since the 20th anniversary of Oasis’s largest album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? in 2015. Liam has furthered that prospect more so than Noel, including the buildup to his solo album’s release in October, but Noel has denied any interest and rejected listening to his brother’s new output. Comparing their albums together is unwise, beyond the similar release dates, they are far apart in style, sensibility, and relevance.
Who Built the Moon? finds Noel capturing an energetic swagger, optimistically recalling his influences and celebrating fun activities. Even while the songs were written in the studio with Holmes, a dynamic shift from Gallagher’s typical methods of writing-demoing-recording, and seem to eschew the style he has cultivated over a two-decade-long career, the album casually references Oasis songs and elements. Opener “Fort Knox” calls back to 2000’s Standing on the Shoulder of Giants‘ opener “Fuckin’ in the Bushes”, structured around a core psychedelic instrumental and a looped hook.
Additional psychedelic and tape loop elements permeate the album, building a dense and heavily layered production. Lead single “Holy Mountain” features a great chorus and a dance-worthy beat, too, and generates as much fun as Gallagher himself has praised in the song, even if the lyrics leave you scratching your head about their meaning (“she smelt like 1969”?). Of course, that’s a hallmark of Gallagher’s lyrics constant with or without his playbook: they can be deep, fun, poetic, and throwaways. The most fun is the sampled tin-whistle though, splicing through the dense mix that purposefully buries Gallagher’s vocal performance.
“Keep on Reaching,” the album’s third track highlights Gallagher’s influences specifically, sounding at once like an all-out rocker while simultaneously bringing in a magnificent set of chorus singers and soul. Along with “It’s a Beautiful World”, these tracks provide the best connections to the album’s predecessors, while throwing away a solitude implied by those albums and the stylistic connection. With “It’s a Beautiful World”, Gallagher additionally comes closest to challenging his concepts that Who Built the Moon? is about fun, a night out, and your love. The French verse added to the second half of the song speaks to the end of the world, otherwise out of place, but still a part of that place, on the record. It’s like a sharp pullback to reality within a dream.
On both “She Taught Me How to Fly” and “Be Careful What You Wish For”, Gallagher emphasizes the direct approach on the album, that of strength through love and perseverance. Though some self-referential lines dating back to Oasis albums appear prominently in both songs and stand out among Gallagher’s lyrical odes to determination and resistance. “So put your money where your mouth is” and “waiting for the rapture” appear respectively in those songs, name-checking Oasis songs released on Standing on the Shoulder of Giants and Dig Out Your Soul (coincidentally both influenced heavily by psychedelia).
Across an interlude and a pair of songs that focus on traditional rock-pop arrangement and lost love (“Black & White Sunshine”, “If Love Is the Law”), the album ends on a cataclysmic sounding opus in “The Man Who Built the Moon”. At once the track responsible for the album’s name, the song is full of biblical references and other consequences spelling out doom and portent, backed by an eerie ringing musical arrangement that punctuates the album on a fatalistic note. It shouldn’t fit with the optimistic energy of much of the album’s tracks, but it caps off the frivolity presented by tracks like “Holy Mountain” perfectly.
Both of Gallagher’s previous solo albums were enjoyable, but both were additionally more direct and immediately pulled you into the listening experience. The captivating aspect of Who Built the Moon? is its capability to grow in depth across multiple listens. Furthermore, the album intensifies and gains strength with multiple listens. If you expect the experience of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds building from latter-day Oasis to continue, then this is a jarring shift, albeit not too radically. Gallagher is a solid musician, never straying too far from his comfort zone, but in this foray into more experimental writing and production qualities, he changes the direction so subtly to leave you wanting more just when you were arriving at some aspect of comfortability.