Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

Since it's just days before the holiday season begins – and because your blogger is pretty busy presently – this post will be an exercise in brevity. But a short post is better than no post. Plus, much of the backstory on this week's artist – former oasis songwriter, guitarist and part-time lead vocalist Noel Gallagher – was already taken care of in my review of his brother Liam's post-oasis project, Beady Eye. So, if you're looking for my thoughts on all things oasis and Gallagher brothers, head there. Here, we'll focus on Noel's competing project, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. His debut album of the same title was released on November 8 on Noel's own Sour Mash Records.

After the demise of oasis, my initial expectation was that Liam and his mates in Beady Eye would have a tough time songwriting without Noel's creative force, and that Noel would emerge with a steady effort, building on his two decades of songwriting for oasis. I was only half correct. Beady Eye defied all expectations, and delivered a well-constructed, ambitious debut outing on Different Gear, Still Speeding last March. Meanwhile, Noel has responded predictably with his High Flying Birds, turning out a solid, consistent 10-track product infused with his trademark Beatles-style constructions, some heady orchestral arrangements and professional-quality musicianship. But, it's also not terribly exciting.

Noel always benefited from the better pure singing voice of the two brothers; a smoother, more balanced counterpoint to Liam's rusty nails sneer. And he exploits that talent well here, hitting and sustaining higher notes beyond Liam's range and routinely employing his well-honed falsetto. This is apparent as soon as the opener, "Everybody's on the Run," with Gallagher shepherding the tune's soaring chorus, and benefiting from sturdy drumming from session percussionist Jeremy Stacey. Gallagher always demanded solid, but unspectacular work from his drummers in oasis, and he finds a willing partner in Stacey throughout the record. He also effectively deploys a mix of horns and strings across the album, boosting the complexity of his songwriting, especially on the album's closer, "Stop the Clocks" – apparently a would-be oasis number than never left the studio over a decade, according to Gallagher.

The problem with the collection, though, emerges quickly: the tracks are nearly all indistinguishable from each other, one mid-tempo cut to the next. This isn't to say that any are bad on their own; in fact, not a single track is a must-skip. They're all carefully structured, well-executed pieces of pop-rock, and several are a step above, such as leadoff single, "If I Had A Gun" and the catchy chorus of "Dream On." And if the Gallagher's acoustic guitar progression on the former of these sounds familiar, you're right: it's nearly the same as oasis flagship number, "Wonderwall." 

But the pace on all of them is largely identical, not moving too fast or too slow. Some variation in tempo and intensity would be welcome. There is a bit more pep on a couple of numbers, though: the optimistic "AKA...What A Life" and it's fluttering counterpart, "AKA...Broken Arrow." But neither hardly qualifies as a barn-burner, and it's hard to believe Gallagher no longer has the more upbeat stuff in him, considering high-energy oasis tracks spanning that band's catalogue, from the early "Supersonic" to the more recent "The Shock of the Lightning." And perhaps his forthcoming full-album collaboration with Amorphous Androgynous – expected in early 2012 – might boost the intensity level. But in the battle between the Gallagher brothers as to who could produce the more interesting material without the other, the victor is surprisingly Liam.

Come for: "If I Had A Gun"
Stay for: "Dream On"
You'll be surprised by: "AKA...What A Life"

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