x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds launches but fails to soar

The former Oasis member offers further proof with this solo project that the Gallagher brothers may produce their best material when they work together, not apart.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Sour Mash


There was an early stage when Noel Gallagher thought it was best to pull the pin on Oasis.

It was after the group's iconic 1996 Knebworth performance, where they played to more than 250,000 fans.

Gallagher described the group's arrival in a helicopter and having the sea of fans singing along to his self-penned lyrics as the pinnacle of the rock'n'roll dream.

Those comments have been dogging him ever since Oasis's creative momentum plateaued with increasingly tepid releases that saw them shed all but the most ardent fans.

Even the faithful - which I confess I was part of - had to readjust expectations.

For one thing, we had to expect a few musical howlers among each new offering (something unheard of in the early days - the band's first two albums were all killer and no filler). And we had to accept that the days when we received an adrenalin boost from an Oasis album were all but gone.

When the band unceremoniously self-combusted before headlining a Paris rock festival in 2009, no one was really surprised; it was just a shame they couldn't do a proper victory lap or end things with dignity like the recently retired REM.

Fast forward to February and it was Gallagher's younger brother, Liam, leading the charge for a change.

His new group Beady Eye - basically Oasis sans Noel - released their debut to a muted response. The album wasn't actually bad, but since it was so similar to Oasis, one wondered if the group should have copied Metallica and hired a shrink to help them sort out their differences.

For all that swagger and cool, Beady Eye's September performance at Yas Island couldn't drown out the pervasive feeling you were watching Oasis-lite on stage.

Perhaps Gallagher's decision to hang back may have been wise after all.

Seeing the limp reaction to his brother's new gig, he may have realised the masses would expect more this time around if they were to join him on this new journey.

Disappointingly, like his younger sibling, Gallagher's new project High Flying Birds dips because of its aversion to take flight.

While Gallagher's 10-song collection is awash with some beautifully understated songwriting, it comes across as a batch of songs written between shouting matches as opposed to a fresh start.

Even two songs, (I wanna live in my) Record Machine and Stop the Clocks, were written for Oasis with the latter penned more than a decade ago.

The affair begins confidently enough, with the swirling orchestrations of Everybody's on the Run. Gallagher's bluesy plea "to hang in there love/because everybody is on the run" nestles sweetly among the lush keyboards and shuffling drums.

With its sturdy beat and no-frills strumming, Dream On resembles a weary version of Oasis's Mucky Fingers, before making way to a glorious chorus that has Gallagher sounding at his most vulnerable. You also see hints of the album's much-vaunted musical exploration, with some brass burbling in the background.

Gallagher flexes his underrated falsetto on If I Had a Gun. The track delivers what it promised when its demo was leaked last year. The producer Dave Sardy builds a foggy sonic template, allowing shards of guitar to ebb in and out with only a steady piano keeping the affair centred.

But instead of advancing confidently, the remainder of the album finds Gallagher wasting all the good will generated by the opening by looking backwards.

While pristinely produced, The Death of You and Me is merely a spritelier rehash of The Importance of Being Idle.

Maybe it's his affection for classic songwriting, but Gallagher was never fond of vocal showboating, preferring a simple melody or rhyme to do the job. But Broken Arrow could have used a kick up the backside; the plodding beat and cool delivery would have been less worrisome if it wasn't an actual love song.

The album ends with the grand ballad Stop the Clocks. Gallagher is justified in claiming the song as one of his finest compositions. Its large scope and warm piano coda recalls his stirring epics Champagne Supernova and All Around the World.

Such a high note shows Gallagher hasn't totally lost his songwriting chops just yet, but in the grand scheme of things, High Flying Birds - like Beady Eye's debut - has yet to convince that the brothers Gallagher are at their best without each other.