Album Review: Noel Gallagher – Who Built the Moon?

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

Concert Review: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, March 29, 2016

Walking towards Margaret Court Arena on my way to see Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds on Tuesday night, I was SHOCKED to see so many young kids and families making their way in.

Who knew that the ex-Oasis man had such a big following amongst school kids?! Here I was thinking kids are all into Beiber and One Direction when in actual fact they’re in the schoolyard swapping bootlegs from Cardiff 1996 and debating who was the better drummer out of Alan White and Zak Starkey.

Then I realised they weren’t going to see Noel Gallagher at all; they were all walking next door to Hisense Arena for Planetshakers Awakening 2016, an Evangelical Christian movement’s conference for followers to “seek, worship and encounter God”.

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Quite apt actually, because seeking, worshipping and encountering were exactly what the rest of us were planning as well – not for God though, but for the ‘God-like Genius’ who once claimed that God is an Oasis fan (I’m not religious myself but it’s pretty obvious to me that if he was real God would dig Heathen Chemistry).

Noel is 48 years old now, and the days of Oasis playing to packed football stadiums with bottles of piss being flung through the air are long gone. Instead, Noel takes to the stage at a very civilised 8:30 and without a word launches into ‘Everybody’s on the Run’, delighting a crowd adorned with Man City shirts, Pretty Green parkas and Adidas trainers.

It’s a testament to Noel’s solo career that his High Flying Birds songs are so well received. But while Chasing Yesterday is a bolder and better album than NGHFB, the songs from the latter are more anthemic and translate better live; especially ‘If I Had a Gun’ and the before-mentioned ‘Everybody’s On the Run’.

Out of the Chasing Yesterday songs, ‘Lock All the Doors’ and ‘The Riverman’ perfectly bookend his career. LATD was written in 1992 and sounds like it’s just been cracked open from a Definitely Maybe-era time capsule. ‘The Riverman’ on the other hand is a spaced-out jazzy number with a saxophone solo on it. Perfect antidote to the Oasis-haters who claim that everything Noel writes sounds the same.

Of course there are plenty of Oasis songs too – ten in fact, including ‘Wondewall’ (done in the style of Ryan Adams), ‘Champagne Supernova’ and a rousing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ that evokes a mass-singalong straight from the football terraces.

More interesting for the hardcore Oasis fans are the selection of B-Sides and album cuts rarely played in Australia before, including ‘Digsy’s Dinner’, ‘Sad Song’ and ‘D’Yer Wanna Be a Spaceman’.  

This is my sixth time seeing Noel (twice with Oasis, once solo with Gem Archer, and now three times with NGHFB) and he sounds as good as the first time I saw him over a decade ago.

There’s some A-grade Gallagher banter thrown in, too. He’s particularly baffled – as I think we all are -by a self-proclaimed “magician” in the audience who somehow manage to bring a BUBBLE MACHINE into the gig. How the hell did he get that past security?.

“You’re a magician? Why don’t you make the fucking bubbles disappear then?”, he says. “Did you pay to get in? Or did you magic yourself through the fucking door. If you bought a ticket you’re a shit magician.”

It’s hard to find fault with your favourite artist, but if I had to be critical I’d say the setlist was too safe. Noel is infamous for sticking to playing the same set of songs, and I think the time has come to finally retire ‘Half the World Away’ and ‘Talk Tonight’ – he’s played both the last 4 times I’ve seen him and it would be nice to hear something from say Be Here Now or Standing on the Shoulder of Giants for a change.

That minor criticism aside, Noel Gallagher at Margaret Court Arena again answered the question about when will Oasis reform. The answer: it doesn’t matter. This is just as good.

Setlist

Everybody’s On the Run
Lock All the Doors
In the Heat of the Moment
Riverman
Talk Tonight
The Death of You and Me
Champagne Supernova
The Dying of the Light
Sad Song
D’Yer Wanna Be a Spaceman
You Know We Can’t Go Back
Half the World Away
If I had a Gun
The Mexican
Listen Up
Digsy’s Dinner
The Masterplan
Wonderwall
AKA.. What a Life!
Don’t Look Back in Anger

Album Review: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Chasing YesterdayWhen I reviewed the debut Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds album back in 2011, I got a bit carried away and made some hyperbolic comparisons between songs like ‘If I Had a Gun’ and Oasis classics like ‘Wonderwall’. But buried amongst all the fawning and excitement I also wrote that it was an album a little too entrenched in familiar territory.

Fast forward to 2015, and with the release of Noel Gallagher’s second solo record, I can flip those sentiments around. As a collection of individual songs, Chasing Yesterday might lack the expansive, sweeping anthems of its predecessor – but as an album, it steps outside the more obvious Beatles and Kinks influences for something more experimental and less derivative.

There’s no Christian Rap Metal or Hoomii Mongolian throat singing to be found here, but woven into the sonic landscape of Chasing Yesterday are bass clarinets, pianos, saxophones, female backing vocals and even hints of jazz (all this from the man who once declared that “music is just music, except for jazz… jazz is shite”). This broader set of sounds makes for Noel’s best work since Oasis’s Don’t Believe the Truth was released a decade ago.

Some of the more captivating tracks are album opener ‘Riverman’ and ‘The Right Stuff’. The former is “Pink Floyd meets fucking Santana in a weird funk atmosphere” (Noel’s own words – how could I ever eclipse that remarkable turn of phrase?), while the later features a soothing female voice accompanying Noel over the top of keyboards and interspaced with a bass clarinet solo. Bet you didn’t expect that on a Noel Gallagher solo album!

Other highlights include ‘The Ballad of the Mighty I’, an almost dancey-track with a cameo from Johnny Marr, and ‘Lock All the Doors’, a Definitely Maybe-esque balls-to-the-wall rocker which was first written in 1992 and would not have been out of place alongside the likes of ‘Columbia’ or ‘Bring it on Down’.

Now, I’ve done nothing but wax lyrical about how great this album is, so I suppose I better take off my Noel-tinted glasses and offer up some criticism. For me, Chasing Yesterday’s one blemish is ‘The Mexican’. It is by no means a bad song, but it is weighed down by some lazy lyrics (“They say that you need love / Just like a kid on crack”), and benchmarked against the rest of the album I feel it should have been omitted in favour of the superior B-Side ‘Do the Damage’.

That minor misstep aside, Chasing Yesterday is an outstanding album that together with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds vindicates Noel’s solo career and the end of Oasis.

The Verdict
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High Flying Birds soar Higher than last time
Best Songs: Riverman, Lock All the Doors, The Right Stuff, Ballad Of The Mighty I

Oasis Albums from Best to Worst

As a long-time Oasis fan, the re-mastering and re-release of the band’s back catalogue has got me revisiting their albums. Over the last few weeks, for what must be the umpteenth time, I’ve listened to each and every Oasis album from start to finish, and taken the opportunity to rank them from best to worst.

No matter how many times someone ranks Oasis albums, Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory will always be number one and two (arguing otherwise is like arguing that Ringo was the best Beatle), but from there it’s less clear-cut, with Heathen Chemistry and Standing on the Shoulder of Giants the most difficult to place. Alas, to see where they ended up, read on….

1. Definitely Maybe (1994)

Definitely Maybe picks itself as Oasis’s finest album. It’s perfect, with Liam’s sneering ‘John Lennon meets John Lyndon’ vocals fronting up Noel Gallagher’s songs about living forever and being a rock and roll star. Songs like ‘Supersonic’, ‘Colombia’ and ‘Bring it on Down’ beg you – no, force you – to turn it up loud. But for me, the crowning glory of Definitely Maybe is ‘Slide Away’, a six-minute long track which could be another six-minutes long and still not overstay it’s welcome. It’s a love song (“I don’t know, I don’t care, all I know is you can take me there”) which provides a genuine tenderness many would never think Oasis capable of. By my reckoning, it’s still the best thing Noel and Liam have ever done.

oasis0012. (What’s the Story) Morning Glory (1995)

There are more hits on the first half of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory than most artists have across their entire discography. Really, what can you say about an album that features not only ‘Roll With it’, ‘Wonderwall’, and ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, but also ‘Some Might Say’, ‘Morning Glory’, AND ‘Champagne Supernova’. Hell, that’s a return on investment that even the Beatles or the Stones would proud of. But as utterly brilliant as …Morning Glory undoubtedly is, for me Definitely Maybe just eclipses it, offering up a sense of urgency and rawness that it’s ubiquitous successor can’t quite live up to.

oasis0023. Don’t Believe the Truth (2005)

Don’t be put off by the dull cover art – Don’t Believe the Truth is the best Oasis album of the new century. It’s their least ‘Oasis-y’ sounding album, bringing together influences from the likes of the Kinks, the La’s and even the Velvet Underground. As the best of Oasis’s ‘democratic’ albums, it features strong contributions from Andy (‘Turn Up the Sun’), Gem (‘A Bell Will Ring’), and Liam (‘The Meaning of Soul’). Noel too, was in a rich vein of creativity; with ‘The Importance of Being Idle’ he wrote Oasis’s last number one single… and arguably their last truly mega song.

oasis0044. The Masterplan (1998)

In the argument that Noel Gallagher is one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, I present Exhibit A: The Masterplan, a compilation of B-Sides from Oasis’s first three albums. Incredibly, these are songs which were deemed not good enough to make it onto an album. I say ‘incredibly’, because many of the songs here are on par with those on Definitely Maybe or (What’s The Story) Morning Glory. Of course, as a compilation, The Masterplan lacks the flow of a ‘proper’ album, but nonetheless there are some absolute gems here, amongst them the gorgeous ‘Listen Up’, the Gallagher-brother duet of ‘Acquiesce’, and the rueful ‘Rockin’ Chair’.

oasis0035. Standing on the Shoulder of Giants (2000)

The come-down to the cocaine excesses of Be Here Now, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants is Oasis’s most underrated album. It’s an album that I used to rarely listen to, but over time I’ve come to appreciate it’s vulnerability and neo-psychedelia, most notably on the likes of ‘Gas Panic’ and ‘Roll it Over’. It’s not all melancholic gloom though – Liam’s vocals are at their snarling best on ‘Go Let it Out’, while 15 years later the menacing ‘Fuckin’ in the Bushes’ still sounds like it could start a riot. There is only one travesty here (no, I’m not talking about ‘Little James’) – the omission of the superb ‘Let’s All Make Believe’, which instead lived out life as a B-Side to ‘Go Let it Out’. It’s a song that deserved so much more.

oasis0056. Be Here Now (1997)

To me, listening to Be Here Now from start-to-finish is a bit like eating an entire packet of jelly beans in one go. At first. it seems like a tantalising prospect, but by the time you get to the end, it’s all been a bit too much to take in. And, like a packet of jelly beans, everyone has their favourite flavours (mine being ‘Don’t Go Away’, ‘D’you Know What I Mean’ and ‘All Around the World’) and their not so favourite flavours. In short, BHN is the sound of Oasis coked up to their eyeballs, fuelled up with lager, with the volume turned up to 11. That doesn’t make Be Here Now a bad album, but it does make it an album that you have to be in the right mood to listen to.

oasis0067. Heathen Chemistry (2002)

There was a time when I would have placed Heathen Chemistry in the top half of this list. Even today, I still marvel at that run of songs from tracks four through to six – ‘Little by Little’ / ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ / ‘Songbird’ (Liam: “It’s about a bird who sings”). The problem with Heathen though is two-fold. Firstly, those songs aside, there aren’t enough songs here which have stood the test of time (of the others, probably only ‘The Hindu Times’ and ‘Born on a Different Cloud’ are in anyway notable for me). Secondly, the in-house production on Heathen Chemistry doesn’t do the album any favours, resulting in an album that somehow manages to sound both flat and overly saccharin at the same time.

oasis0078. Dig Out Your Soul (2008)

It wasn’t the best way to go out. Put it this way, if Oasis reformed tomorrow and went on a world tour, it’s unlikely that anything from Dig Out Your Soul would make it onto the set list, with only ‘The Shock of the Lightning’ (notable for it’s pounding drum solo) a long-shot of inclusion. Where Dig Out Your Soul falls down for me is the half-way mark, where we are introduced to Noel trying to do something different – but not really hitting the mark – with ‘(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady’. From there, there is a brief glimmer of hope with ‘Falling Down’, before a disappointing run of largely forgettable Liam/Andy/Gem songs ends the album – and Oasis’s discography.

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