[Music Review] Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - S/T“Little things they make me so happy
But it’s good, it’s good, it’s good to be free…”

Noel Gallagher may have written those lyrics for a 1995 Oasis B-Side, but they are fitting words today as he releases his debut solo album, the self-titled Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.  Free from democracy of latter-day Oasis, this is the first album he has written from start-to-finish since 1997’s Be Here Now, and his first new material since walking out from Oasis two-years ago.

He may not have sent a song to the top of the charts for six years, but any question over Noel’s ability to deliver a big tune are laid to rest with the opening track. Album opener, Everybody’s On the Run, is an epic ballad drowned in choir and strings, anchored down by a line (“you gotta hold on” pleads Noel) that is this album’s “so Sally can wait” moment. Equally memorable is If I Had a Gun, a gorgeous acoustic track with opening guitar strains that recall Wonderwall.

The most surprising highlight on Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Bird’s comes from the bizarrely named AKA… What a Life!, a track which seems to have come straight from Noel Gallagher’s secret discotheque. A piano-driven, almost house-sounding track, it is just waiting to be remixed into a dance floor hit. As refreshing and intriguing as it is, it is the only time Noel wanders outside his comfort zone (at least until next year’s follow-up album is released – a collaborative effort with Androgynous Amorphous).

Elsewhere, influences come from for more familiar territory – Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks is Eleanor Rigby if the Kinks had written it, while on The Death of You and Me Noel almost lifts lyrics directly from Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in The City. Unsurprisingly, the sound of Oasis is never far away either, especially on (I Wanna Live in a Dream In My) Record Machine. Critics may deride Noel at times for ‘borrowing’, but such criticism is redundant when the songs are this good.

The only track that fails to hit the mark is also its most hyped – closing track, Stop the Clocks. The song was first mentioned by Noel Gallagher ten years ago and reached mythical heights in Oasis circles, fueled by a leaked demo and comparisons with Champagne Supernova. Released here at last, it sounds more like a lost track from (the admittedly under-rated) Standing on the Shoulder of Giants than anything to be particularly excited about.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds may not drift far from a well-worn path, but it is a fine album containing some of the best songs he has written since the Britpop era. Best of all, between this and Beady Eye’s Different Gear, Still Speeding, the remnants of Oasis have produced two albums far better than their final effort together as a band. It’s a great time to be an Oasis fan.

The Verdict
A solid debut but one firmly in familiar territory
Best Songs:
Everybody's on the Run, If I Had a Gun, AKA... What a Life!

[Music Review] Kasabian – Velociraptor!

Velociraptor! is the fourth effort from Leicester rockers Kasabian, and the hotly anticipated follow-up to their 2009 album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum. It is their most eclectic album yet, with psychedelic, industrial, middle eastern and even hip hop influences permeating their electro-rock sound.

Anyone expecting West Ryder – Part II will find themselves underwhelmed by the opening track, Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To, a strings and horn infused song which at times almost recalls Paint it Black by the Stones. It is pleasant and catchy, but ultimately too innocuous to open an album by a band that has kicked off previous efforts with songs like Club Foot and Empire.

Normal service is resumed on track two and lead single, Days are Forgotten. An almost hip hop sounding beat underlines tribal screams, slashing electric guitars, nonsensical lyrics (I’ve got blood lust / feeding you bread crust) and a chorus you will not forget. It is big, it is over the top, and it is Kasabian at their finest.

Even bigger and more over the top is the album’s title track, which attacks you with all the speed and aggression of its prehistoric namesake. Best of all is the chorus, which somehow manages to be a contender for the title of both silliest and catchiest lyrics of 2011 (“Velociraptor! / He’s gonna find ya! / He’s gonna kill ya! / He’s gonna eat ya!”). With lyrics like that, it should be a dud, but it is not and it is coming soon to a festival encore near you.

Possibly the boldest moment of the album comes with Switchblade Smile. Here, Kasabian bring their electronic influences to the fore with a song that channels  the sound of Nine Inch Nails and the Prodigy, with just enough Sergio Pizzorno guitar to keep Kasabian’s DNA in place. It is an exciting track and one can not help but wish the group had explored their electronic influences to a greater extent through the album.

Other noteworthy tracks include the Middle Eastern flavours of Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter from the Storm), I Hear Voices with its Kraftwerk inspired synthesisers, and the Lennon-esque La Fee Verte (with obvious lyrical odes to the Fab Four: “I see Lucy in the sky telling me I’m high” and “Nothing is real”).

There are no bad songs on Velociraptor!, and with its wide-ranging influences, there is something for everyone. But here lies the problem – Velociraptor! tries to do too much, and lacks a single cohesive thread that demands repeat start-to-finish commitment from the listener. As such, it is a collection of great songs, rather than a truly great album. For now, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum remains the high water mark in the group’s discography.

The Verdict
An eclectic album that is too omnivorous to be called Velociraptor!
Best Songs: Switchblade Smile, Days are Forgotten, Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter from the Storm)

[Book Review] Oasis – The Truth (Tony McCarroll)

Tony McCarroll’s Oasis – The Truth is the first autobiography to be released by a member of Britpop’s driving force, Oasis. McCarroll hit the skins for Oasis up until his sacking in 1995, just as the band was about to launch through the stratosphere with their career-defining album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory. The author claims the book chronicles the “truth” about the early days of Oasis. In reality though, it is no more than a 300-page barb aimed squarely at Noel Gallagher.

I am an Oasis fanatic, but this is not a good book. McCarroll comes across as some kind of boring simpleton, with a one-dimensional writing style that does nothing to portray any personality that he may have. After I finished reading, I felt as if I had learned nothing about the man – other than the Noel Gallagher sized chip that lives on his shoulder. This seems to be the only reason McCarroll has bothered to author this lazily written book. Of course, there are two sides to every story,and so some of this book is undoubtedly true. How much though is irrelevant, for McCarroll’s bitterness is palpable and ruins any chance of the reader sympathising with him. The drummer even finds time to casually drop an anecdote belittling the size of Noel’s .. equipment. Most telling of all is the name of the final chapter: “Arise Sir Noel, the Lord Mayor of Loneliness”.

Ultimately, Oasis – The Truth, is no more than a chronological descent into the breakdown of McCarroll’s relationship with Noel. It is a rock autobiography that offers limited insight into the band, and is crying out for more tales of rock n’ roll debauchery. Oasis fanatics will find this a vaguely interesting read – albeit one with little substance. Everybody else – do not waste your time. For the record, Noel once had this to say about McCarroll: “Shite drummer. Shite hair. Shite trainers”. After reading the book, it’s hard to disagree.

The Verdict
Alongside the great rock biographies, this book is worthless. Only for the most ardent Oasis fans.

[Movie Review] Senna

Asif Kapadia’s Senna recalls the story of the great Ayrton Senna, a supremely talented and deeply complex Brazilian racing driver who won three World Championships in a tumultuous career peppered with controversy, triumph and tragedy

The film’s narrative follows his racing career, starting with his initial karting foray into Europe before fast-forwarding to his early years in Formula 1, first with back of the grid Toleman team, and then with the more competitive Lotus outfit. A couple of pivotal moments are featured – first, Senna’s stunning drive in the Toleman to second place at a rain-soaked Monaco, and second, his maiden Grand Prix win for Lotus. These years are only covered in passing, but serve to highlight his meteoric rise and provide context for his subsequent move to McLaren in time for the 1988 season.

It was here that the rising star was partnered with the defending World Champion, Alain Prost. Every good story needs a rivalry, and Senna vs Prost is up there with the best. Senna, the young, red-blooded hot shot with everything to prove, up against Prost, the meticulous, ultra-professional Frenchmen with two World titles to his name. At first the relationship is amicable, if a little uncomfortable. Then, as the Brazilian’s talents come to the fore, things began to become frosty. And then it became downright hostile, descending into wheel-to-wheel combat and one of the great sporting rivalries of all time, backed by a thread of off-track political bickering. It is drama that Hollywood couldn’t script. It is Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier at 300km/h, and it makes for incredible viewing.

There is not a single frame of new footage, with the entire film presented through archival footage that has been spliced together. Race footage (complete with original commentary), Senna family home videos, television interviews, chat show segments and news reports combine to deliver a film that plays out more like a live-action drama than a static point-in-time documentary. It is an effective way of presenting one of the great sporting stories, and brings you into the picture as events unfold ‘live’ in front of you. It is an effective way of delivering the story, and one that makes the tragic end to his career all the more difficult to watch.

If there is a criticism that can be levelled at Senna, it is that the sheer ruthlessness of the man is brushed over. Save for a single interview with Jackie Stewart, Senna’s ruthlessness as a racing driver is not explored in enough depth. In a way it is an important part missing in a film about the man who invented the “get out of my way or we are both going to have an accident” type of driving. Nonetheless, it does not detract from the enjoyment of this amazing film.

Many will choose not to see Senna under the assumption that it is a film about motorsport, solely for motorsport fans. That is a shame, for Senna is a gripping documentary that is arguably a better experience for those who are not fans of the sport, and for whom the story will be new. Additionally, the brilliance of the story comes not just from the actions on the track, but from Senna’s enigmatic personality off it. This is a real, human story, about a fascinating character. From the green light, to the chequered flag, this is one of the quintessential sporting films.

The Verdict
Superb - belongs on the shelf alongside the other great sporting films

[Review] Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – The Death of You and Me

The Death of You and Me is the lead single from Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, the debut album from the former Oasis songwriter and guitarist. After walking out on the band following an ugly spat with brother (and lead vocalist) Liam in 2009, the smart money was on Noel to carve out the most successful post-Oasis career. However, after a surprisingly accomplished debut album from Liam’s band, Beady Eye (also comprising the remaining Oasis members), the attention turns to Noel to see if he can deliver the goods without his brother’s vocals up front.

Borrowing has always been part of the Noel Gallagher modus operandi, and the habit continues with The Death of You and Me. One suspects that Noel must own a worn out copy of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Greatest Hits album, such are the lyrical parallels with their 1966 hit song, Summer in the City. Never adverse to pinching a good tune from himself, there are also shades of Noel’s own song, The Importance of Being Idle, from Oasis’ criminally underrated album Don’t Believe the Truth. An unexpected horn solo and some delicious Noel falsettos complete the package.

The Death of You and Me is a nice enough song with flashes of well crafted songwriting (“I’m watching my TV, or is it watching me?”). But this is Noel Gallagher, the man who wrote Live Forever. Expectations are high, and it is hard not to be a touch underwhelmed by this track. Noel may try to talk down comparisons with his brother, but they are inevitable, and it has to be said that Beady Eye’s debut single, The Roller, was better.

The Death of You and Me – Music Video

You just know Noel can do better than this — a point thankfully demonstrated by the trio of songs that have leaked from his upcoming album, all of which are far better than The Death of You and Me. Noel fans need not despair, the Chief has some aces up his sleeve. Keep listening for Stop the Clocks and I Wanna Live in a Dream (In My Record Machine). Beady Eye may have won the battle, but the war still wages.

The Verdict
Beady Eye 1 - Noel Gallagher 0. But there's a lot more to come from Noel...

Welcome to the Masterplan

Welcome to the Masterplan – a place for me to enjoy writing. On this blog you will find my thoughts and opinions on topics including current affairs, music, movies and sport.

Likely content will include movie, album and gig reviews and opinion and commentary on sport and current affairs.

EDIT – July 2013: website renamed to rageandenthusiasm.com