Comparison between the Gallagher brothers is always going too difficult get away from. One of the lesser “highlights” of the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony was an ear-curling rendition of the Oasis classic “Wonderwall” by Beady Eye, fronted by Liam Gallagher. You can just imagine brother Noel watching, beaming, as the final proof that he was the talent behind Oasis’s success was being broadcast to 215 million people worldwide.
Now five years on, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds return with their third album Who Build The Moon?, hot on the heels on his brother’s first ever solo venture, and once again it’s clear where the talent lies, even if Noel’s not firing on all cylinders this time.
Opening dramatically with Kasabian mixed with Arcade Fire, “Fort Knox” feels more like Noel’s audition for a new Danny Boyle movie. You can see the swooping shot as the camera travels along the ground, faster than a cannonball. But sadly, that’s where the new and exciting stuff ends…
First single “Holy Mountain” borrows a Seventies glam guitar riff – albeit hiding the ‘steal’ in a brass section – as Noel shouts, “Get out of the doldrums, baby!” Well, as much as this is catchy, it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. Similarly with “Keeping On Reaching: Noel clearly wants to take you dancing – it has an jumpy groove feeling, like it’s by Nineties rivals Primal Scream, with gospel vocals punctuated by sharp horns – but it’s not new or different, and rock stars in glass houses shouldn’t throw rolling stones.
And so it continues: “It’s A Beautiful World” is a song that could be used on a charity video for a worthy cause; it’s as far away from rock ‘n’ roll indulgences as it is possible to be. Reminiscent of Noel’s collaboration with The Chemical Brothers, the chorus is – despite lazy New Age lyrics (“walking in your dreams, it’s written in the sky”) – to be fair, quite uplifting. However, its samples of French feels either he is mocking Arcade Fire (again), or simply wanting to do what they do too.
“She Taught Me How To Fly” never quite takes off. A possible homage to Blondie but without the Debbie Harry’s knowing sass, you can imagine driving at night to this, but it has less a heart of glass, more a plastic soul.
“Be Careful What You Wish For” immediately feels like The Beatles’ “Come Together” but with a country swag. It’s a warning song about the problems of getting what you want; Noel’s clearly observing the instant-satisfied online culture, and its lack of depth and forward-thinking. Not bad.
“Black & White Sunshine” is a mix of REM and U2 – twangy chords that again have Noel shouting cliched lyrics. Not a good idea considering Michael Stipe and Bono have more to say over similar backing.
“Interlude (Wednesday Part 1)” feels like being on hold and you’re just about to be told “your call is important to us”. There are moments that feel like The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” but is it a tribute, or ripping off? I just don’t know anymore.
“If Love Is The Law” feels like a heart-felt song, but it’s smothered by over-production. It would better suit a simple acoustic rendering. Again, I’m feeling Noel’s current playlist must feature a lot of Brian Wilson, as he seems to be showing what a “wall of sound” approach could do to his material. It does not suit it.
Like the opener, “The Man Who Built The Moon” feels once more like a melodramatic opening to a movie. Maybe 007 is calling, and this is where Noel would take James Bond. I would welcome that, as for once Noel’s indulgences would suit the extravagance of the life of a spy; certainly more than another ponderous ballad by Adele.
On the whole, the album is enjoyable and catchy in places, but despite borrowing from his contemporaries, there’s no progression here. Noel tries to emulate the sonic grandeur of Arcade Fire and Kasabian – in his Oasis days, he never shied away from borrowing from the classics, and it was something he did well – but where the first two High Flying Birds albums had a sound of their own – nothing new but clearly in the Gallagher style – here we have an artist whose influences are showing too much, and his own voice is being lost.
This is very by the numbers, and for an artist who made anthems more than 20 years ago, he clearly wants to show he’s moved on and left his Oasis days behind – but maybe it’s time for that reunion. I know the brothers will never get over their differences, but together they produced songs that are both catchy and memorable, their opposite philophies producing a subtle uniqueness that is lacking in their solo work.
In places, Who Built The Moon? is as self indulgent as Oasis’s Be Here Now, but if you take away the over-production and homages, Noel can still make you tap your foot. Although he as proven he can offer so much more than that, I think that’s what he’s content to do right now.