Wednesday 11 March 2015

Noel Gallaghers High Flying Birds - Chasing Yesterday

The two biggest facets that Oasis had in their locker were Liam Gallagher's wild man of rock frontman schtick, and Noel Gallaghers songwriting ability.
Beady Eye provided an outlet for Liam's frontamn persona, and the first High Flying Birds album housed Noel's latest batch of songs.
Of the two, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds produced the better album, containing a clutch of songs that developed, and in many ways enhanced and possibly eclipsed, the latter days of Oasis.

And so to the second album.
  • Will it continue to show growth in Noel's songwriting.
  • Will the influence of the planned (but now indefinitely shelved) collaboration with Amorphous Androgynous have a bearing on the song construct and overall sound
  • Will the songs contain elements of the promised "stretch" and use of unexpected instrumentation
The answer to all the above is "not really" (well, "no" if I'm being blunt).
What you get is 10 tracks (14 on the Deluxe Edition) of the tried and trusted, with the odd musical diversion.  What it is a second collection of songs that are written for Noel Gallagher's voice and are very familiar and reminiscent of the "partially solo" stuff released on Oasis records.
NOTE: This is not a bad thing

The familiarity (and the plagiaristic tendencies) are there right from the start with "Riverman" (which is not (perhaps unsurprisingly) a cover of the Nick Drake track).
Commencing with another approximation of the "Wonderwall" riff, before continuing in an almost melancholic tone, this track sets the scene for the record.  Despite the inclusion of some nice greasy Pink Floyd-esque saxophone, the familiarity is most welcome, and keeps you wanting more (possibly in the hope something new/unexpected comes along).

The same tone of comfort continues through "In The Heat Of The Moment" and "The Girl With The X-Ray Eyes".
"Lock All The Doors" bounds in like a proper rocker from the Oasis debut.  "Dying Of The Light" returns to the melancholic delivery, complete with a continuous stream of rhyming couplets that you can see coming a mile off (but this is what we expect from NG, so this is not a criticism).
"The Right Stuff" offers a welcome diversion in sound and pace - almost droning, Eastern in intent.  Its very laid back and jazzy.  It is a track rescued from the Amorphous Androgynous collaboration.  Its a great track, with a great feel.  For me though, this one track is enough - I'm not sure I want a whole albums worth of this (each to their own I suppose, but not for me).
"While The Song Remains The Same" offers a quasi-religious opening, and just rolls along without ever really engaging or changing gear, but you come away from it knowing you've just heard something good.  Always restrained, it feels like its being held back - which may be for the best as it would to too obvious (and too messy) if it were to explode in a cacophony of thumping drum, bass and guitar soloing.  Probably not single-fodder, but would sit nicely in a Live set - maybe with lighters in the air.
"The Mexican" is a melting-pot of Led Zeppelin riffage, cowbell, synth noodling - theres an almost psychedelic-funk thing going on here.
"You Know We Can't Go Back" opens on a Pink Floyd sounding shrill arpeggio, before banging into a relentless plodding rocker that really was/is what Noel (and his previous band) did best. 
The narrative of the song "While The Song Remains The Same" re-visits his past in Manchester (a theme seemingly apparent in other tracks to (whether by design, or not, who knows?).  On album closer, "The Ballad Of The Might I" re-visits a time a lot closer with a vague re-tread of "AKA ... What A Life" from the debut High Flying Birds album.  What sets this offering apart is the inclusion of Johnny Marrs guitar solo, before closing the album with a flourish of synth noise.

There are moments when you feel Noel Gallagher is breaking free from the standard template, employing new sounds, instrumentation and song construction - but you get the feeling he never wants to stray too far.
On the whole, this album is a consummate piece of work, featuring some great and not so great songs.  They are strung together in a way that shows that it was conceived and delivered as a whole, rather than a series of recordings thrown together and sequenced for best effect.

This second album is not as immediate as the first - there is nothing on here that makes you want to reach for the 'Skip' button, but by the same token you are not inclined to press the 'Replay' button either.
I wouldn't say I'm cock-a hoop about the album, but remain mildly satisfied - I don't think it will be consigned to the "I forgot I bought that" pile, but may not be making as many visits to the CD Player as its predecessor.

"You Know We Can't Go Back"

A title which leads neatly to (and probably answers) the ever-present question, especially in this the 20th anniversary year of "(What's The Story) Morning Glory?" - will there ever be an Oasis re-union?

Thursday 5 March 2015

Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space

On 21 July 1969, Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon (or not if you go along with the conspiracy theories).
12 months to the day later, I popped into this world.

As a result of this chronological quirk, there may be a chance that I have an in-depth knowledge and appreciation of all things space-y, astronaut-y and SciFi like.
Not a bit of it - I can appreciate the scientific and engineering advances, but I prefer SciFi when it is debunked via Airplane II, Spaceballs or Red Dwarf, or similar.

But this in no way reduced my anticipation for the new Public Service Broadcasting.
Previous release 'Inform - Educate - Entertain' took old Public Service Broadcasting Films and provided them with a soundtrack.  The juxtaposition of the BBC English, plummy-voiced Announcer fighting for air-space with guitar, drums and electronic beats worked so well, the apparent strangeness of the concept was gone.

The "difficult" second album continues this conceit, and uses voice tracks recorded in the 50s/60s documenting the competition between the super-powers to get a man on the moon.

On first listen, it didn't immediately "grab" me the way 'Inform - Educate - Entertain' did, but further listening reveals more depth and cohesion than the previous release (I just needed to re-calibrate my expectations).

Opening with a John F Kennedy speech of intent to go to the moon over a haunting choir, second track "Sputnick" starts up as the applause fades.  From a relatively desolate beat, the track starts slow and moody, gradually building with more sounds and atmospheres, before tailing away and launching into "Gagarin" - a throbbing funk track built around an insistent guitar riff and horn work-out.
The whole mood is brought down a notch with "Fire In The Cockpit", where you can almost feel the claustophobia and helplessness of the situation it describes.

The next track for me was the pivotal moment of the album - "EVA" opens like a collision between a Pink Floyd riff and Television for Schools and Colleges, and continues in that vein at moments sounding like TV and Film "production" music.
This is the track documents the first Space Walk, and for me encapsulates the point of the story - a statement of achievement  Built around a Tubular Bells-like base, the track bounds along, and then slowly fades, before the monotonous, almost Krautrock, opening to "The Other Side".
"Valentina" retains the musical template, and adds actual vocals, courtesy of The Smoke Fairies (albiet in the form of a choir-infused atmospheric chant).

"Go" is probably the most immediate track on the album - this track marks the actual moment of the moon landing, and includes possibly one of the most famous human utterances "The Eagle Has Landed".  This therefore should represent the conclusion of the story.

Or it would do, but ... the final track "Tomorrow" is a slow, almost melancholic account (complete with glockenspiel) which recounts the final Apollo mission of 1972.  It may mark the end of an era, but retains the suggestion that if mankind has done it once, why not do it again.
All goes quiet for about a minute and a half, and then a rousing tone begins to rise offering a rousing, almost triumphant, conclusion to the album (although many may nor get to hear this and switch the album off at the 4:00 minute mark when "Tomorrow" seemingly ends.)

The conceit of the band remains the same - to apply a contemporary soundtrack to archive voice tracks.
Both the predecessor and this album follow this pattern.  However, the tracks on 'Inform - Educate - Entertain' could be considered as stand-alone entities strung together by the idea, this album is a true concept album built around the narrative of the title.
As a result, it makes for a stronger, more complete work.

Although, I do fear for the future - there are only so many archive recordings that could lend themselves to the PSB treatment.  There may be a danger of either repeating themselves, or not finding a truly emotive, or resonant, subject to base future releases upon.

Where next?
  • A celebration of 1970s TV Adverts (including a trip-hop remix of the Shake n Vac advert)?
  • Match Of The Day Commentary tracks from John Motson over a three-chord punk rock thrash?
  • The speeches of Margaret Thatcher set to a Brian Eno inspired ambient soundscape?

Whatever they do next, I'm sure it will be as eagerly awaited, and as well received as both full albums released to date.

Public Service Broadcasting - E.V.A.