Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds are the kind of outfit that only comes along once or twice a decade: the kind of band who play so solidly inside a genre that they manage to reshape the genre around themselves. Sometimes bands like this are trailblazers, pushing boundaries up and out and redefining genres; Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds manage the rarer feat, which is to be so very much what you think of when you think of a genre that they dig down into it and put across something of its essence. The fact that they manage to do this while playing English rock’n’roll – a genre that has had its fair share of self-parodic releases – is even more impressive.
Gallagher himself – along with his brother Liam, who hit the San Francisco live music scene last month and played the Warfield in San Francisco – has more to say in this kind of rock than most. Their band Oasis stormed into the 1990s as if they’d only just heard John Lennon was no longer making records, and they were angry about it; their first two albums, Definitely Maybe and What’s the Story Morning Glory were masterpieces of rock songwriting. Following the creative and relational implosion of Be Here Now, the band struggled to rediscover the combination of style and heart which made their first two albums classic; what seemed like a decade-long breakup followed, and for a long time it seemed like the only thing we’d see from the Gallagher brothers was headlines.
So it’s time to celebrate the release of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ third album, Who Built The Moon, because you’ve never heard anything so self-assuredly English as this. That might not sound like an attractive proposition, but the secret behind Flying Birds is the same as the secret behind Oasis; it’s endless swagger, bad hair and appalling dental work undercut by unapologetic sweetness and sheer, balls-out songwriting craft – the kind of songwriting that can raise a fist in the air and a lump in the throat in a single chorus, all while staring at you and daring to call either one wrong.
WBTM was conceived, and partially recorded, during the sessions for the band’s first album, Chasing Yesterdays, in 2015; but rather than feeling like a collection of offcuts, it feels like the main course only promised at by Chasing Yesterdays. A Metacritic score of 76/100 doesn’t come by mistake; and it’s come from a determination to dig into English rock’s less “Wonderwall-ish” roots; shades of glam-psychedelic David Bowie in particular give the album an edge that the High Flying Birds have never before managed to hone. This is decades of songwriting skill let off the leash, and it’s a joy.
One of the pleasures of the album is that Gallagher seems to respect his songs enough to let them be the first thing you hear; no anonymous droning from his vocals here, but a carefully-tweaked synchronicity designed to compliment the arrangements, and elevate the song as a whole. Here, he seems to finally blend in with the rest of the vocals and instruments. It’s a big step for someone as notoriously headstrong as Gallagher – in the glam barnstormer “Holy Mountain,” it’s a little hard to tell that it’s Noel’s voice at all, and in “If Love Is the Law,” he lands his voice in perfect compliment to the strums of the guitars. On “The Man Who Built the Moon,” he lets himself off the leash, and allows his voice to be the main event, and it’s all the better for being rare on the album: here, his voice finds a window to stand out in the verses, just for a few moments before the crashing tsunami of the chorus.
On the whole, Who Built the Moon? comes across as an album where the High Flying Birds spent as much time creating and putting together the notes and the sounds as they spent on writing out the lyrics; and that hasn’t always been the case. The best trick a well-established artist can pull is to surprise you; Who Built the Moon is a fantastic example of the fact that it can take hard work to get there, but it’s worth it.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is playing the Fox Theater in Oakland – Sat, Mar 10, 2018 08:00 PM – Purchase Tickets HERE
His brother Liam Gallagher recently played the Warfield in San Francisco. A full review and photos from the show can be found HERE.
Photo courtesy of Black Arts PR (c) Lawrence Watson 2017
— Noel Gallagher (@NoelGallagher) November 24, 2017