CD Review: Noel Gallagher “Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds”

When my Oasis expert brother-in-law called Noel Gallagher’s new album “old man music,” I was a little wary about listening to it. But I have to say, if Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is “old man music,” then those are some pretty hip old men.

Although he’s freed himself from Oasis and the music style is reasonably different on High Flying Birds, the album is still very Noel Gallagher. His versions of Oasis songs have always been distinct and almost like a separate entity; that has been a unique aspect of the band that makes them disparate from many of their contemporaries.

A song sung by Noel is always different from Liam’s version – there’s just a different vibe, a different milieu created by Noel that although is just as good, is completely his own. Both Gallagher brothers have strong trademarks that make them own the songs they sing and although it’s hard not to compare his work to Oasis (especially considering that he was the primary songwriter for the band), it’s impossible to deny that Noel has successfully checked in his Oasis baggage and is on the High Flying Express.

The album kicks off with the steady and orchestral “Everybody’s On The Run,” an Ennio Morricone-inspired tune with Gallagher continuously pleading for everyone to “Hold on. because everybody’s on the run.” Really, Noel? Is it really going to be that bad? Luckily, that’s not the case.

The calm of the opener leads into “Dream On,” which is stamped with Noel’s trademark tried and tested I-care-but-I-don’t-care attitude, lyrically prevalent in Oasis songs such as “The Importance of Being Idle” and “One Way Road.”

“The Death Of You And Me” was the first single released off the album and is definitely one of the standout tracks, as the lazy big band feel of the music meshes well with the charmingly downer lyrics. This song comes after “If I Had A Gun,” which was originally going to be the first release of the album, but was discarded for “The Death Of You And Me”; apparently “If I Had A Gun” was felt to sound “too Oasis.” Gallagher allegedly told Mojo magazine that “If I Had A Gun” is one of the best tracks that he’s written, so I guess we have to like this song.

Though the record gets a little underwhelming as it goes on, Gallagher still throws in some pleasantly surprising curve balls. “Soldiers And Jesus Freaks,” for example, is a rocked out marching tune that is placed between two rather mediocre tracks.

“(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach” is another standout track that begs to be heard on repeat. Noel effortlessly moulds the focused and cocky Americana tinge to the track with his classic audacious attitude. More than anything, no one does brazen audio quite like Noel Gallagher.

There are a few misses on High Flying Birds. The dreamlike “(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine” is a good appeaser of its predecessor (“Death Of You And Me”), however, the chorus dangerously teeters on the edge of sounding like the anthemic refrain of some corny pop song. Luckily, Gallagher manages to catch onto it and talk it down before it commits proper rock suicide.

Then there’s “AKA… What A Life!”, definitely the main song that is the furthest away from the Oasis/Noel Gallagher sound. Although it’s admirable that Gallagher is experimenting with new sounds and getting out of his 18-year comfort zone, when the track starts, it almost sounds like some dance/rock song by the latest hipster band out of NYU. Whether you dig the new sound or not depends on what you’re into, but I will say this – it could have been worse. Much, much worse. (Although, did he really just say “I’m going to take that tiger outside for a ride”?)

“AKA… Broken Arrow” doesn’t sound like it could be played in a dance club like its “AKA” brother, but it’s not a standout. It’s still decent, but it doesn’t go past mediocre. Actually, once the chorus kicks in, it almost sounds like the younger, hipper cousin of “Part of the Queue” off Oasis’ Don’t Believe The Truth.

The record ends on an upper, with the soft, almost ethereal sound of the unreleased Oasis track “Stop The Clocks,” which serves as a perfect ending to a perfectly satiating album.

Noel Gallagher has managed to keep his edge and Oasis credibility, but release an album that is still quite different from what he is known for. Production and various genre inspirations aside, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds isn’t as different as I had expected it to be. Sure, there are a few tracks that you can imagine Liam Gallagher laughing at, but underneath all the hype and venturing, the record is still Noel. After all, Noel was the chief songwriting driving force behind Oasis, so he’s got enough credibility to pretty much do what he wants while still staying – excuse the pun – familiar to millions.

The record is a satisfying and pleasing debut from a reliably good artist and it leaves you wondering where Gallagher is going, or willing to go, next.

Hear it for yourself here.