Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds Review - OurVinyl

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ self-titled LP

Album Reviews

It’s fitting that this review should come at the time it does. My year with OurVinyl began by reviewing the first post-Oasis project, Beady Eye. Comprised of all the Oasis members minus Noel Gallagher, the album provided a romping bit of fun and good ole fashioned rock and roll. However, it was lacking a certain X factor to take it to the level of some of the best Oasis material. While it was enjoyable and all, one couldn’t help but wonder what Noel was up to.

For nearly half the year a solo album from Noel Gallagher was almost flatly denied, preferring to toil away in secret and privacy. Then all of a sudden a new official website went up, including a preview of a song and its accompanying video, as well as the mention of a full-length to be released later in the year. The kicker of the announcement was that it was just the first of two albums recorded during the time! The first was said to be a more traditional rock record and the latter an experimental project. So how does this “traditional” rock record fare?

If Liam and company took all of the brash swagger from early Oasis, then Noel got what was left: heartfelt soul. It’s that unnamable feeling that you felt when hearing “Wonderwall” or “Slide Away” for the first time. It’s the sort of feeling that Beady Eye’s material lacked, falling just shy of being truly memorable. The surprising thing is that for the amount of passion and soul that are present in the record, there’s little to no depression or sadness to evoke this. As Noel stated in interviews and proves to be true, the record has an overwhelming sense of hope and the thrills of new love.

Noel Gallagher’s Everybody on the run

The album starts off in truly epic fashion with “Everybody’s On The Run,” a song complete with an orchestra and backing choir as he pleads for the listener to hold on. It’s one of the more adventurous songs he’s done in ages and bears a cinematic quality that could almost put it in line as the next James Bond theme. “Dream On” ventures back into more familiar Gallagher territory as a jaunty tune from the highly Beatles-styled playbook, but what sells it is the passionate chorus as he bellows, “dream on” in such a gut-wrenching way that it gives the listener hope. Before we get too settled into all of the upbeat musings, the album’s first ballad comes in the form of “If I Had A Gun.” The verse’s lyrics are a little surrealistic and metaphorical, but once the chorus kicks in everything becomes clear as he sings, “my eyes have always followed you around the room because you’re the only God I’ll ever need…” It’s such touching sentiment that it will no doubt make its way onto many a lover’s playlists.

From there lead single “The Death of You and Me” plays out a bit like “The Importance of Being Idle’s” witty little brother and (I Wanna Live In a Dream In My) Record Machine” has grandiose wonder in spades. “Record Machine” is one of several songs on this album that have existed for a while, dating back to the Oasis days, only surfacing as poor quality demos floating around YouTube. It is this link to the past that keeps the album feeling familiar even if overall the album is fresh for the most part. “AKA…What A Life!” keeps the theme of hope and excitement going with a more fast-paced track where Noel sings of taking chances, chasing rainbows and taking a tiger for a ride.

Speaking of continuing the theme, it brings up one of the albums only flaws: a certain sense of sameness. Not that all of the songs sound the same here. On the contrary, each has a unique tune, but the tempo remains the same for the majority of the recording, generally operating at mid-tempo with the occasional slow number; there is no all-out rock song. Some listeners who are more sensitive to these musical technicalities might be put off by that fact. Others may just accept that the album has a certain mood and consistency and feel satisfied to leave it at that. This certainly isn’t helped by the sound of the production either, which is the album’s other great flaw: the album practically sounds like it’s in mono. There’s hardly any separation of instruments. The grandiose nature of the orchestra is given no room to breathe amongst the guitars and percussion. It all seems to have been mixed flatly: everything is at the same volume and importance, creating very little sense of dynamics. What truly saves each of these songs from bleeding together is the sheer passion in the delivery as well as memorable choruses for every song that will stick in your mind long after the record stops playing.

“Solider Boys and Jesus Freaks” is short but poignant and humorous and “AKA…Broken Arrow” mixes things up with a bongo-infused rhythm section that gives the track a unique feel. The reoccurring existentialism and topic of dreams also pops up again as he sings “if I die in a dream then let me live my life.” One last burst of energy comes in the form of (Stranded On) The Wrong Beach” where Noel takes the only stab at approximating the swagger of his former band as a hand clap-fueled chorus has Noel pleading, “So long baby bye bye, pour me one for the road.”But by the end the dream-like nature of the song becomes apparent as he says there’s no one there but him and asks for rescuing and the sound of waves segues into final track “Stop The Clocks.”

It’s interesting that both Noel and Beady Eye have the sounds of a beach near the close of their respective albums. While Beady seems content to part ways with the listener Oceanside, as if at the end of a journey, Noel’s album keeps going one song beyond the beach. Sharing its title with an Oasis Best-Of from a few years back, the song has been around just as long if not longer. In it Noel questions existence and dreams once more by asking, “if I’m already dead how will I know?” It’s the perfect way to compare the two post-Oasis projects: one is content with the fun of the beach; the other questions the reality of the beach and what it means. While neither will live up to the dizzying heights of Oasis’ former glory, Noel Gallagher and his band of High Flying Birds certainly come a lot closer to the mark. With Occupy protests, a still stumbling economy and everything else going on in the world, it’s refreshing to hear music full of wide-eyed hope. It’s something we could all use a little more of.

By Jarad Matula