Oasis’ music was never original. Their first two albums were hugely indebted to great British rock bands of decades past, but their brilliance was with how they managed to encapsulate the time. Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? were the audio representations of how every young person felt in the booze-sodden summers of the UK in the mid-90s. Then it all went downhill, with the next three albums seeming like uninspired retreads. In the newest issue of Under The Radar there is an article discussing the 10-year cycle of musicians, and in the case of Noel Gallagher it roughly fits. Ten years on from Morning Glory Oasis released Don’t Believe The Truth; a return to form and a partially new sound for them. We’re still within the ten years following that release, and the sound of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is certainly from the same gene pool as Don’t Believe The Truth, but just as he did over the course of Oasis’ first decade, Noel Gallagher is putting out gradually less inspired versions of the same songs in his second as a musician.
With every album that followed Morning Glory, Oasis seemed to follow the same kind of model as a manufactured pop band; they’d put together two to three strong singles which would do well on the radio, and then they’d pad it out with some other guff to make an album that could only be loved by people who think Definitely Maybe is still the pinnacle of musical output in the modern era. The same can be seen on Noel Gallagher’s first solo outing. The obvious singles come in the form of “The Death Of You And Me” and “If I Had A Gun.” Each possesses a typical thudding drumbeat, 4/4 time, and a grand stadium-friendly chorus, for which Noel reaches up to his barely-higher register to emphasise the weight of the moment. “Dream On” is a carbon copy of this format and seems an ideal single, though it has not yet been released as such, perhaps because of the expletives in the painfully-delivered lines “shit don’t matter at all” and “the bitch keeps bitching.” Lyrics like these, and many other trite ones that treat love like a noun in a typically Gallagher-esque way, were much easier to stomach when he was younger and they were fresher. Having said that, these are all perfectly fine songs, but for each you could find a superior version in his back catalogue. (I can’t hear the opening of “Gun” without thinking it’s “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” while “Death” seems like a retrace of “The Importance Of Being Idle.”)
Elsewhere we’re mostly left with the usual chaff. “AKA… What A Life!” tries to do something new (for Noel) by riding a driving drumbeat and piano for four and a half minutes without pause or genuine crescendo, but ultimately does nothing interesting. Its counterpart with the inexplicable “AKA” beginning “AKA… Broken Arrow” is an instantly forgettable piece of generic soft rock. “(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach” tries to create an interesting song seemingly by purely having Noel sing with a devil-may-care attitude, but a chorus of “Oh me, oh my / So long baby, bye bye,” isn’t exactly the most original or exciting.
On the other hand there are some gems hidden amongst the rest. “I Wanna Live In A Dream (In My Record Machine)” is rather beautiful song with fantastic arrangements and an understated horn part, possibly being the closest thing Noel has created to a Magical Mystery Tour-worthy Beatles song. “Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks” once more makes use of horns to great effect to add depth to Noel’s tale of the end of the world (or maybe he’s just complaining about the government in an over-the-top way). Closer “Stop The Clocks” is better than most of the album, but that’s unsurprising since it is a left over from Don’t Believe The Truth; and when you consider they had the far superior “Let There Be Love” to close that album you can understand why it didn’t make the cut.
Overall Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is the sound of a man who has been let loose of the shackles of his old band, but is not entirely sure what to do with this new found freedom. Instead he mostly falls back into familiar traits. There are signs here that there are still sparks of brilliance within Noel’s toolkit, and it will be interesting to see if he manages to make use of them on his following releases. So, for now we’re left with another Noel Gallagher album that continues in the same trend of most of Oasis’ output, trying to be something greater than it is. But hey, at least it’s better than Beady Eye.