If you listen to Noel Gallagher’s third solo album hoping to hear ‘Wonderwall’ or ‘If I Had a Gun’ redux, you’re going to be disappointed. There is nothing like that on Who Built the Moon?—there are no stadium-filling anthems, no recycled Oasis offcuts… nothing for the parka monkeys.
Instead, you will find sounds including a ringing alarm clock, a French musician playing a pair of scissors, and a tin whistle sampled from an obscure sixties pop song (“don’t try and Google it, it’s beyond obscure, you’ll never find it”, says Noel, but dig deep enough and you will).
Some of Noel’s most interesting music has come when he’s deviated from the script and tried something different (his collaborations with the Chemical Brothers or the piano-driven ‘AKA… What a Life!’ to name a couple of examples). While he teased us with flourishes of experimentation on his first High Flying Birds records, both still had Oasis’s fingerprints all over them. On Who Built the Moon? he’s broken out of the shackles completely to create something entirely different.
Much of the credit for this lies with the album’s producer, David Holmes (an Irish DJ and Producer – you’ve likely heard his work on film soundtracks such as Ocean’s Eleven and Logan Lucky), who persuaded Noel to enter the studio without any songs in tow, and to build the album from a clean slate. Writing and recording this way allowed Holmes to put Noel back on track whenever he ventured too close to familiar sounds.
In a recent interview Noel told Rolling Stone magazine how he would sometimes play songs in the studio, only to have Holmes to stop him and say, “That sounds a bit like Oasis… try something different.” It seemed to work, with Noel recalling that, “Eventually, something different would come.”
The result is an album that is rich, diverse and intriguing, but not as immediately accessible or enjoyable as its predecessors. It is an album that needs time invested in it before it clicks. Thankfully, when it does the pay-off is solid.
The album opens with ‘Fort Knox’, a surging, psychedelic instrumental that Noel has likened to Kanye West’s ‘POWER’, before ‘Holy Mountain’, a song more contagious than the bubonic plague which sounds like Plastic Bertrand singing Ricky Martin in the style of Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ (I told you this album is different!).
The unexpected influences don’t stop there, with Noel also citing inspiration from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Can and Blondie. Touring with U2 has obviously rubbed off, too — the gorgeous ‘It’s a Beautiful World’ (complete with a spoken word French monologue) has some serious Acthung Baby! vibes, while another highlight is the New Order-esque ‘She Taught Me How to Fly’, complete with guitar notes that Bernard Sumner would be proud of.
The record-crate digging and experimentation doesn’t always work, though. Different’ isn’t always synonymous with ‘good’, and there’s the occasional miss, like the plodding ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’. Similarly, while the two instrumental interludes on the second half are pleasant enough (and do work well in the context of the album), part of me wonders if another ‘If I Had a Gun’ might have added more to the album.
To that point, one of the best songs on the album is one of it’s more conventional Noel Gallagher songs, ‘If Love is the Law’, a joyous affair resplendent with sleigh bells and strings.
Ultimately, Who Built the Moon? is a better album than the sum of its parts suggest. It isn’t Noel’s best collection of songs. But as an end-to-end piece of music, it is his best solo record to date and a resounding success.
Best songs: Holy Mountain, She Taught Me How to Fly, If Love is the Law