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?

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