“I’d go back to the beginning tomorrow, as long as I ended up here today” – Noel Gallagher
Noel Gallagher’s plans to return to the music world with a whisper rather than a bang don’t seem to have worked. Since the Chief himself sat in the press conference in the summer and announced the debut album Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds everyone has been talking about it. In fact the lid was blown off the plans when another band tweeted about his presence at the studio in Los Angeles. So now, with the dust settled, the promotional interviews done and dusted and the tour underway, was the wait…the hype and the expectation worth it? Given to Sound answers with a resounding YES.
Everybody’s on the Run opens the album and it is in a word, epic. It’s a huge statement musically and personally. Gallagher himself says that this, If I Had a Gun, The Death of You and Me, Stranded on the Wrong Beach and Stop the Clocks are the backbone of the album thematically. The album opener was written during the last leg of the last tour of Gallagher’s previous band, and a version of it already existed on the internet. The weight of expectation surrounding the official version of such material could crush the song, but this song flies thanks to the strings (24 piece all female, at the request of Mr Gallagher) the choir and of course, Noel’s vocal.
If I Had A Gun continues the theme of taking a chance on love, lyrically it is up there with anything you consider a Noel Gallagher classic and the middle eight, “excuse me if I spoke too soon, my eyes have always followed you around the room” is exactly what I listen to music for. It’s exactly the type of romantic sentiment Noel can come out with in full knowledge that it will be sung back to him by the blokiest of blokes in a hands in the air moment. The Death of You and Me was of course the first UK single, getting the nod over If I Had a Gun because it wasn’t what anyone expected from Gallagher. The song has echoes of The Importance of Being Idle, and a stir or two of Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon. I’d go as far as adding Daydream by the Loving Spoonful in there too. Wherever it came from, it’s familiar and yet just out there enough to hook the listener. And there’s a New Orleans band bit in the middle too, what more do you want?
“It was a clear and conscious choice to sound different and give the listener something unexpected… a come back with a whisper, and just say to people, ‘shssssh, there’s trumpets’ ”
(I Wanna Live in a Dream In My) Record Machine is another song written for use by Oasis and it, much like Stop the Clocks, has been around for a decade. The vocal is dreamlike and wispy and the chorus lifts. This is another that has the choir and strings on it and if you heard the demo version without that you may not appreciate the wall of sound approach here, it tends to bury the vocal at times but it does have a guitar solo and a nod to Stop the Clocks in the outro.
AKA…What A Life! is the sum total of what happens when Noel Gallagher follows a song down a creative path, rather than consciously taking it there (The Death of You and Me).The song owes some inspiration to Strings of Life which is a 1987 track by Derrick May recorded under the name Rhythm is Rhythm. The result is a catchy piano riff, drum beat and guitar all laid down in one studio session and the most accidentally different sounding thing on the album. Noel tells us it’s techo, dancey and most unlike him. It’s hardly the Chemical Brothers and its far from the far out that we are expecting in 2012 with the Amorphous Androgynous, but it is a testament to Gallagher now having no-one to please but himself.
If you are playing along thematically, the people in love from the opening track and …Gun that needed to escape their environment in The Death of You and Me are now experiencing moments of pure happiness and loving their life. The gap between finding everything you’ve always wanted, and losing your mind is pretty small, we’ve all got to take chances and see where the road leads us. The lyrics and the recording story tell us that much. If you don’t want to see that within it, quite simply his track sounds amazing loud. Woohoo!
Solider Boys and Jesus Freaks is a jaunt through small town America and the attitudes within. It seems to be a happy song with a serious comment gloved inside it , almost full circle if you think of Up in the Sky from the other debut album Mr Gallagher is attached to. But, dear listener, don’t get too bogged down in political messages just listen and enjoy.
AKA…Broken Arrow is the second song to feature AKA because, like What a Life! it also had another title during the sessions. The former was called Leave Me In Peace I’m On the Side of the Angels while the latter was called Ride the Tiger. Having been given the task of listing the tracks, the Chief wrote those song titles and the AKA parts as an afterthought. In Gallagher’s own words:
I annoy myself by saying we should leave things like AKA and brackets in, when people refer to it as AKA What A Life, it annoys the fuck out of me. That’s my fault.
Musically it strums along, a little reminiscent of Part of the Queue, it’s the “leave me in peace” part where the song lifts. Lyrically the song is very strong and at a stage we’ve heard the first three singles and marvelled at them, you should be in no doubt that from Broken Arrow to the
(Stranded on) The Wrong Beach follows the characters of the album to a point where they have arrived at their little patch of heaven. Having been going so right in What a Life! the reality now hits and the characters find that the new life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; it’s a long journey baby and where it’s gonna take me just depends on the weight of my load.
Where the journey does take us is back to the beginning, which is where the much trumpeted Stop the Clocks comes in. This is the lost track for a lot of Oasis fans. It had been worked on and almost ready for release a few times before now and in a fitting fond farewell to that previous band it sees light of day here re-recorded, featuring vocals pieced together from various takes and a powerful guitar solo ending contributed by Paul ‘Strangeboy’ Stacey (who also did the backward trippy guitar and bass in Who Feels Love and had some piano-organy moments on Heathen Chemistry and Don’t Believe the Truth).
If I am being honest I don’t think any recording of this song would satisfy everyone. There are those who think it’s buried in a wall of sound, some who love it and some who are glad to see it released. Noel himself seems to fall into that category, that guitar solo at the end really feels like it was the difference between making the album and not. We can be glad it was included because it fits the theme of the album, the whole fuck it lets run away thing that goes through the collection is resolved by stopping the clocks and going back. Stop the Clocks is the perfect way to finish the debut solo album from Mr Gallagher. It should send you right back to the beginning to do the whole journey again.
A journey is exactly what Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds appears to be and it’s good to see Noel Gallagher recording like this. Freedom from his previous band is obviously working for him right now because I don’t think you could have got this kind of depth from an Oasis album; A) because they weren’t that kind of band and B) because Noel was only writing half of the songs. This is ALL Noel Gallagher and it really sores because of that. The vocal delivery is exactly as intended, he’s clearly able to write about things he wants to in greater depth than perhaps previously and he doesn’t have to hide behind the ‘its about nothing it’s just gonna sound mega live’ response. He can now sit down and take you from A to Z on a musical journey and actually admit that it is so.
There are no apologies for the album’s epic sound either; some may believe it’s too often lost in a thick fog of sound but for everyone who thinks that there are just as many who will say that’s the album’s greatest asset. It is the Noel Gallagher we expected but it’s a bit of reach at times as well. If you think back to Be Here Now a lot of those songs are derided by their author now because they are often needlessly long and layered by guitars; take Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds to be similar only this time the epic quality is not needless, the choirs and strings are not done just ‘coz; the presentation fits and works. It’s not massive because Noel is in the biggest band in the world and no –one dares tell him to stop the excess, it’s done because Noel is starting from scratch and pleasing himself.
He was always going to get here. The solo road was just waiting for him: it’s never too late to be what you might have been.