The Noel Gallagher Trilogy: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

The self-titled debut solo album by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is Noel’s first output since the controversial breakup of Oasis.Free from these restrictions, Noel is able to produce a stunning first album bursting with new found life and energy. Although there are no real groundbreaking influences upon Noel’s songwriting, albeit “AKA What a Life” is one of his most original songs to date, it is a stellar effort, a typical Noel one in that every song on the album is quality, to a varying extent. One criticism that I would make is that there is a lack of variety across the album and although I’d hate to go back to Oasis, it could do with a “Morning Glory” or “Rock N’ Roll Star” to kick on.

The opening song “Everybody’s On the Run” starts with the heavenly sound of orchestra and choir and we can maybe sense this is a different aura to Gallagher in Oasis. The very first lyric “You can’t fight the feeling”, on a personal level anyway says to me how I can’t help but love Noel’s songs and as his three solo albums show, he brings concepts and sounds I would normally dislike or find not too exciting, and manages to create the most appealing and catchy tunes. There is always some emotion he is able to inspire, a magical quality very few possess. The feeling and emotions on this album, and this song in particular are as Gallagher states: “Romance, young love and escapism and the longing to leave one place and be in another”. This is apparent in this track simply from the title, “Everybody” is leaving for someplace, maybe a social comment on a consumerist world where gratification must be constant and there is an abundance of meaningless commodity fetishism: “But you can’t find the meaning,”. Gallagher contrastingly pleads the listener to hold on to love: “Hang in there love// You gotta hold on“, confirmed by Gallagher himself: “It says something in it… You’ve got to be strong enough for love, it’s very easy to be cool and cynical”. I can’t shake the feeling that the song could do with some editing, going on for maybe a minute too long and largely comprising of the same lyric and music. Still though, it’s an emotional, soulful journey and the listener may well head Gallagher’s advice to just let yourself go, during the song itself, to get the maximum enjoyment it can offer.

Dream on” initially seems one of the songs of the album. But with several listens it loses it’s effect and ends up being relatively average. It is catchy, but the choruses lack any real punch and the lyrics are some of the poorest of the album which Noel cheerfully admits “Dream on is fucking nonsense…pop for pops sake” when compared with the rest of the lyrics. This adds a light-hearted touch to it, it’s not interminable by any means but still not a classic to put it lightly.

Next up is “If I had a gun” which is by far and away one of the best songs Noel has ever written and in my opinion his most touching. The lyrics are incredibly beautiful and powerful, which the listener would do well not to feel even the slightest prick of emotion and is essentially an open love letter from Noel to his wife. It conjures up the best images of love: “My eyes have always followed you round the room”. It’s almost painful in it’s tenderness, reminiscent of Oasis ballads “Who Feels Love” and “Stop Crying Your Heart” in parts. But make no mistake, this is next level from his Oasis days, any comparisons with “Wonderwall” or “Don’t Look Back in Anger” are not sufficient to cover this song’s beauty, it shits all over them. This is some of Noel’s finest ever work: “Emotionally uplifting and up there with the best I’ve wrote” and described by his producer “Pure Noel, the lyrics are the best he’s written”. Any of the lyrics could be picked and instantly find a place and a meaning with anyone and should be cherished as one of the all-time great ballads.

Bluesy influences infect the fourth song “The Death of you and me” and infect the listener too, with a sing-along feel evident throughout. Noel’s vocals, not often praised, are surprisingly brilliant in this, quite high at times then powerful through an epic and powerful chorus. An abundance of brass and horns add a feeling of “New Orleans” according to Noel, adding some strangely enjoyable chaos at the end of the tune. The percussion, direct and brilliantly simple during the chorus is the Coup de gras, giving the song that final bit of kick and energy, powering through right to the end.

(I wanna live in a dream) in my Record Machine is a strange song for me. It’s hard to work out whether it’s sheer brilliance or something fairly average. It has it’s limitations. The title is to me, utterly meaningless and the chorus’ lyrics are nondescript. It is also far too similar to “Everybody’s on the Run”, with the accompanying strings and choir. It starts intriguing, children laughing, sounds of the playground bringing up some childhood nostalgia which may explain the affect of the song upon the listener. It’s a very calming, soothing track with hints of the festive season maybe? This is not a negative thing, reminding of an Oasis song “Turn up the Sun” because of the bells. Whilst it may falter in the middle, the song regains full impact towards the end, with the electric guitar replacing the acoustic and adding some much-needed energy and the orchestra comes into it’s own and the lyrics taking on an air of defiance: “You can’t give me a reason// I don’t need one to shine// You can’t give me a feeling//If it’s already mine”.  A complex and interesting song, the listener should look forward to finding out how they perceive this quirky album track.

What a Life. What a life it is indeed to have a song as brilliant as AKA What a Life, at once empowering and enriching. the constant piano with a hint of foreboding is the driving force of the song, alongside with understated but brilliant drumming of Jeremy Stacey. As the first song I’d ever heard from Noel, before I could even tell the difference between him and Liam, it has a special sound to it, not overly sentimental or deep, but a sense of excitement and me thinking “I need to listen to this guy more” when I first listened. The start of the song really does connote isolation and a notion of mystery: a single high frequency sound interrupted by the distorted piano. This effect is compounded by the lyrics, most notably “I’m going to take that tiger outside for a ride”. This associates for me a sense of danger not often present in Noel songs. Could it also be interpreted as a swipe at Liam, that Noel will not settle for being the quiet former lead guitarist of Oasis? Probably not, but it’s fun to imagine so, and Noel is no shrinking violet and his outspoken views often provoke laughter and contempt in equal measure. The song fades out with more foreboding music, this time the violin in ambiguous terms, leaving the listener to bask in it’s mystery.

Soldier boys and Jesus freaks, one of the lesser known tracks, is an innocuous little gem that’s chorus really drives it through. The song heavily features brass like several other tracks and it’s verses are nothing special with fairly average lyrics. But it’s chorus really hits home, Gallagher’s vocals sounding as good as anywhere on the album, the trumpet complimenting this too. There is a nice reference to the inspiration for the song in the first line, “All the people on the village green”, alluding to the Kinks 1968 album, The Village Green Preservation Society. Further inspiration is drawn from more obscure, slightly darkly humorously things though. Noel recalls being in America and being slightly bemused at a news story of a religious family saying their dead son wasn’t dead but had just gone to heaven on holiday. A memorable lyric is “She will kiss the sky and shelter all the world from the rain”. That really is an incredible image to visualize and further demonstrates Noel to inspire awe through his lyrics. This song is the first of three, along with Broken Arrow and Stranded on the Wrong Beach that Noel admits “I always forgot about those songs, because the first six songs kinda dominate everything, but every time I listen I think fucking hell, they’ve got great choruses. Yeah I’m quite proud of that little trio of songs. The second of that trio, AKA Broken Arrow, is the most derivative of any oasis material, in an album that generally hints at it without going all the way. But this is the odd one out, with the chords seemingly straight from wonderwall, listeners may sigh and feel slightly disappointed. A cynical reviewer may see this so-called trio as the albums filler, and whilst I wouldn’t go that far, they aren’t as memorable as they could be. I do find pleasure in them still, perhaps that only a big fan could. Coming out of the chorus into the next verse, “When I’m lost and lonely, that’s not gonna ease my troubled mind”  with a flurry of drums and a catchy melody and some excellent string accompanying it, is the songs undoubted highlight. Stranded on the wrong beach continues the theme of escapism and the aftermath of the turbulent oasis break up but with a contrasting twist, as Noel explained to the NME: “But you end up stranded on the wrong beach, where you end up in paradise thinking, ‘This isn’t really what I wanted. I should be where I f—ing come from. I should be where I belong.’ It’s where you’re from is where you’re at, really. Kind of saying the grass isn’t always greener on the other side”. This is evidenced in the final verse, ending with a somber feel: “Dry land sinking in the quicksand, Stranded on the wrong beach, Come and rescue me”. this creates some suspense as to who is Noel pleading with to come rescue him. The guitar riff and bass line build up towards the chorus excellently and creates the sense this a mid-tempo foot stomper with very good production and musicianship.

Stop the clocks may have been familiar to oasis fans as an old song never finished. It’s also the name of the 2006 compilation issued by the band. Like Stranded on the wrong beach, elements of regret and doubt are what fuel this epic, and this make it a slightly haunting, but incredibly beautiful song. The sentiment of the title and lyrics “Stop the clocks and turn the world around” could be interpreted as wanting to re-live the love you have shared with someone as they were that magical. Furthermore “lock the box and leave it all behind, on the backseat of my mind” has always soothed me, trying to encourage people to not worry and let some things go, a sentiment Noel has often put in songs such as The Masterplan. The ending is a fantastic, exuberant crescendo of distorted horns, frantic drumming and a whining guitar solo, a collage of the album as a whole squeezed into a magnificent 20 seconds ending so suddenly with a heavenly echo.

Before the album it was hard to expect what Noel could produce without the constraints of a group or a particularly mainstream audience. The shackles are released and whilst the album never strays too far from the beaten path, it was and is an important steeping stone to the experimentation that would take place in the next two albums. The inscription in the back cover of the CD case sums this album up best: “Stunned that something so simple can be so good”.

 

 

Advertisements

Great Albums. #1 Holy Fire~Foals

Foals’ third studio album starts how it means to go on with the four minute instrumental “Prelude“. Like the album as a whole, this track leaves me with one word: intriguing with hints of darkness and tribalness, something the group experimented with in the studio: “At one point we even made these poor studio interns collect bones. We were inspired by voodoo, these Haitian rhythms. We collected some ourselves, from butchers in Willesden High Road. Mainly cows, I think often they had gristle and cartilage on them, mainly cow and occasionally sheep. We had to order these big pots because one of the shoulder blades was too big! We boiled the flesh away so we could use them as percussion! We wanted to get primitive!”. The track grows in intensity as it goes on, with the first of many riffs that border on the sexually pleasing. It’s a perfect tee-up to the second track on the album, “Inhaler“, like a magnificent pass leading up to a wonder-goal. Inhaler could have it’s own essay, it probably should have its own book. It’s not only only a great song in the context of the album or Foals as a band, it’s an all-time great, definitely in my top 5. The opening sounds reverberate around your head cosmically in a strange sensation, before Jack Bevan’s powerful drumming shakes the listener out of this surreal trance. Yannis Philipakis’ vocals are really at the peak of their powers, particularly in the choruses, described as a “satisfyingly gruff roar”. The song’s atmosphere is really intense and angry, as is a lot of the album, which means the choruses have a great impact, Yannis is almost screaming “I can’t get enough space!”. The lyrics too add to this feel of irritation and anger towards someone or something, as Yannis himself told NME “[Inhaler is] about feeling under attack. I tapped into that feeling of rush-hour claustrophobia, wanting to scream everybody away and gain space for myself”. Foals return to their usual melodic “poppy” style on track number three with “My Number“. If I had to pick a tune that best represented Foals as a band, this would be it, an upbeat song with extremely catchy melodies. It really is an indie anthem and the lyrics are quite upbeat, moving on from a former lover, and was once a song I would listen to religiously everyday. There is a real sense of optimism about My number, something that may be indescribable and valuable on a personal level. Mike Driver of the BBC, argues the same about this strong opening to the album: “Holy Fire’s lead tracks, Inhaler and My Number, comprise tone-setters for this slickly realised set, which focuses on instant-click compositions over consciousness-creepers. That both sound enormous may have everything to do with Alan Moulder and Flood’s production – and if not, their presence can’t have hurt”.

The next three songs take the intensity and excitement down a notch, but add to the album as a textured, diverse piece of art. “Bad Habit” is halfheartedly melancholy and feels a bit self-pitying in regard to it’s lyrics, although there are the usual brilliant melodies. But the song just seems to lack that edge, that bite that is customary to Foals songs, as Mike Driver concurs: “It lacks the singular spark that makes this band’s best cuts stand boldly from the crowd”. As does “Everytime” to some extent, although the riff in the chorus and effectively subtle use of a banjo make it mercurial in some aspects. However the repetitive lyrics seem to decrease the impact of this great production. “Late Night” benefits from having been on a Sky Sports advert recently and therefore I had heard and admired the rhythm guitar riff. The track slowly builds, with that intriguing riff a constant, added to some brilliant vocals from Yannis making for a mystifying listen.

The album picks up more with “Out of the woods“. Some tribal percussion, almost steel drum-like, and some feminine backing vocals create a blissful, heavenly atmosphere, as the lyrics also perpetuate “it was just a dream, the most beautiful place I’ve seen”. This is essentially contrast to the dark connotations of what “the woods” represents and the delight of the protagonist to be out of them is evident: “Never felt better than when I’m on my way out of the woods”. “Milk and black spiders” is one of the albums occasional misses and will probably lose the battle with the skip button, even then it is by no means offensive to listen to as the end of the song is once again a crescendo of different influences, again including steel drum-like sounds, but again it does suffer from the irritatingly repetitive lyrics and a certain nondescript feeling.

The album roars back into life with the monster track “Providence“. The three opening notes echo like they have emerged from the depths of Hell, leaving a distinct sense of foreboding. Everything on the track is slick and well timed, a sign of excellent production, and this time the repetitive lyrics reinforce the motif of animalistic behaviour and tribalism: “I know I cannot be true, I’m an animal just like you, Oh I’ll bleed just a little bit too, oh I’ll bleed just like you”, This and perhaps inhaler, are for me, the epitome of Holy Fire, making the listener really feel an anger and darkness from deep within. The epic ends with a two-minute drum solo, the best I’ve ever heard in terms of quantity and pace. This is where the excitement really kicks in deep, with Bevan’s epic drumming dying off for only a second, then roaring back in an awe-inspiring and electric manner. Providence is a magnificent, thrilling rock song, which we see more of in Foals next album What Went Down.

The album slowly fades off with “Stepson” and “Moon”, two quiet album tracks, which have to be listened to a few times before the listener can appreciate them as part of the larger context of the album. If anything they add a contrasting calm to the thrill-a-minute monster that comes before them.

Overall this album is seen as Foals’ coming of age masterpiece, more than fulfilling the promise of earlier albums “Antidotes” and “Total Life Forever”. This is a confirmation that Foals’ are one of the biggest and best bands in Britain, of which now there is no doubt after the follow up of Holy Fire with What Went Down. The flames of future success are burning bright because of Holy Fire

 

 

Great films: #1 Apocalypse Now

The greatest of them all?

The hype for this renowned cinematic masterpiece was almost too much for me before I watched it. Having just read it’s source material, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, my expectations were massive. It did not disappoint. Brutal, awe inspiring and terrifying, this is truly the pinnacle of film in an age where CGI was not commonplace like it is in today’s films and it’s production was about as difficult as its possible to conceive. Delving deep into the Philippine jungle, Francis Ford Coppola is somehow able to conjure a masterpiece amidst the chaos of Martin Sheen having a heart attack, Marlon Brando being overweight and the film itself being massively over budget. The cultural impact from this leviathon of film will endure.

The basic plot of Apocalypse Now in as few words as possible is this: captain Willard is tasked with the confidential mission of tracking down colonel Kurtz, a rogue commander who’s formed his own army deep in the Vietnamese jungle. The squad of an army patrol boat are also tasked with escorting Willard to his destination. As the journey goes on, the psychological effects of the jungle and war begin to take their toll.

The epic starts as it means to go on, a montage of explosions and fire destroying nature, which will be a main theme throughout, ominously serenaded with the incredible Doors song “the end”. This could foreshadow what we are about to witness, the metaphorical “end” of society as we know it and all it’s morality, through the Vietnam war that irreversibly altered it. As the sound of a Huey is effortlessly blended into that of the ceiling fan in Captain Willard’s claustrophobic Saigon apartment ( a magnificently simple use of cinematography) we see the ensuing mania Willard himself is under, throwing himself round his room in a strange, psychedelic introduction to our protagonist and the movie. Willard presents his problem to us that “When I was there(home) all I could think about is getting back into the jungle”. I think The Hurt Locker can be linked to this, as a key element of that particular war film, also an absolute epic, is the main character William James, a bomb disposal expert, almost need for war, commenting “War is like a drug”. Despite surviving a gruelling tour, once James returns home to the mundane domesticity of life with his family, he cannot wait to return to combat and the film ends on him starting a 365 day tour. It seems this is the case for Willard too, who is extremely restless waiting for a new mission. This sadly is one of the many enduring legacies of the Vietnam, thousands of young men’s lives reduced to nothingness and nihilism. As Apocalypse Now demonstrates, this really was the definition of a sado-masochistic war, with the only results being the rape of an entire country and the destruction of an entire generation of American men.

Although the whole film is seared into my mind like a cherished memory, there are three scenes that stood out to me:

The ride of the Valkyries: “That” explosion Apocalypse now

Out of all the film’s scenes, this is probably the most stereotypical of a Vietnam war film. But even then, this is special. The set piece excellence required to pull this off is beyond measure in my mind. The sight of the helicopters on their way to destruction is ominous and is reminiscent of a swarm of small black insects in their way to wreak havoc. Although we’ve been introduced to the god-like character of lieutenant colonel Kilgore in the previous scene, here we see him in his manic peak, leading his men into battle like Achilles. What makes the scene more surreal is the Motivation behind it as Kilgore stated in the previous scene, that “Charlie don’t surf” and the beach they are taking is seemingly for the purpose of fulfilling Kilgore’s love of surfing. As the Air cavalry make a bee-line for their target, more incredible cinematography is shown, the helicopters black dots against the brilliant peach-orange and pink skyline as some fairly lucid music plays with siren like wails. Around a mile out from their destination, Kilgore informs Lance that he plays Wagner’s “ride of the Valkyries” of which the scene is named after, as it “scares the shit out of the slopes”. The operatic score is so fitting and again so unlike anything in other Vietnam movies. As the helicopters process to demolish the village, huts, bridges and Vietnamese are blown apart in an awe-inspiring show of force. Kilgore and his squad remain in complete control throughout, communicating to each other positions of enemies and facing no real problems. That is until a Vietnamese woman throws a grenade into a helicopter carrying the wounded and the ensuing carnage leads Kilgore to declare hypocritically “fucking savages”. This is representative of the American mindset of the time in that the inhabitants of the country they are destroying are considered savages, whilst they commit such atrocities as My Lai. Despite Kilgore’s narrow-mindedness, he is still a man who you would to lead you into battle and the adoration he inspires from his soldiers is evident, certainly one of the most memorable and charismatic movie characters, alongside Tyler Durden and Mia Wallace. As the helicopter sets down, the brilliant yellow flares linger like mist and Kilgore orders his men to “surf or fight” which is still slightly humorous in the midst of a war zone. The fighter jets then roar in and deliver a monumental explosion, surely the best and most recognizable in the film, the peak of a crescendo of destruction and brutality as a whole section of nature is obliterated in the orange death-cloud of napalm. What follows is again one of cinemas most famous moments, with a line that wholly encapsulates his character: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”. Kilgore then delivers a great monologue about napalm, and “the smell of victory”. But this is a parting speech and the last of the so called ‘traditional’ warfare that we will see. From here on out the fighting will be sporadic and uncalculated, and the battle will be more psychological as Willard and his men journey further down the river and further away from civilization, towards the mythical figure of Kurtz.

The gates of hell: arrival at the Do Lung bridge 6362433242171365991008470724_Do Lung Bridge 2

Of the films many allusions to great mythical works, the references to Dante’s inferno in this scene are most obvious and suitable. The setting is one of seemingly inevitable damnation, as the Do Lung bridge, the last army outpost, and as Willard says “beyond it lies only Kurtz” and also the edge of civilisation itself. The bridge represents the gates of hell, and a scene of horror and anguish greet the patrol boat, animalistic calls of pain and torment. A large group of soldiers try to swim aboard the patrol boat, clambering and fighting pathetically for a chance of salvation, a clear reference of the fifth circle of hell in Dante’s inferno, where the wrathful fight each other at the surface of the swampy waters of the river Styx. It is also a metaphor for Charon, the ferryman of the underworld, who ignores the screams of the souls desperate to leave the world of the dead. An ominous cry of “You’ll get what you deserve” foreshadows the end which will meet nearly all of the crew and signifies they are about to enter hell itself. As Willard journeys ashore to find fuel, ammunition etc., he instead finds himself in a place devoid of all military authority. Indeterminate voices scream all around, Vietnamese, American, who knows, but it highlights how the further down the river the crew get, the more chaotic and wild it gets, to a point at the Do Lung bridge where the ability of the U.S military to ensure their routines are followed, is virtually non-existent. The viewer gets the distinct feeling that beyond the bridge lies only darkness, beyond any glimpses of Western civilisation, which links into the final scene I want to talk about.

Arrival at Kurtz’s compound

1979-Apocalypse-Now-07

The finale of the masterpiece is no disappointment. Despite the prelude and allusions to the horrific nature of Kurtz and his group, it pales in comparison to the visual shock we witness on arrival at his compound. A mass of natives, in white war paint, deathly still, holding spears, is the surreal sight we are greeted to. The colour is one of the most striking features of this scene, the vibrant oranges and yellows combining with the abundance of green foliage to create an immersive sense of fundamental and rudimentary nature. In addition to this, the presence of Buddhist statues is a warning to the crew and a menacing one at that. Tigers, a symbol of the jungle, are a metaphor for how far removed Willard now is from his perception of civilisation. Further horrors adorn the temple steps, naked bodies, decapitated heads, symbols of Kurtz’s brutality. If the Do Lung bridge was the gates of hell, then we are truly in hell at Kurtz’s compound, a place so blatantly beyond the realms of morality. The movie hits you with this with such brutality that it leaves a lingering sense of awe and fear, and is truly a worthy version adaptation of it’s source material, the heart of darkness, in it’s exploration of human behaviour, how far human evil can go and the hypocrisy of imperialism and the madness that comes with it, as Kurtz is a victim of American imperialism into the jungles of South-East Asia, a victim destined to never return.

The cultural impact of Apocalypse now is invaluable and it’s affect on film-making may never be truly realised. A visually striking film, it’s rich cinematography is the cornerstone of its enduring legacy and one that only gets more impressive and spectacular with every watch. Out of all the Vietnam war films, this is the most brutal and realistic in presenting the evil and destructive nature of war. In fact, it may be reductionist to call this simply a war film about Vietnam, instead it is a complex film with an incredible amount of complex themes, with multiple layers of cultural allusions and subtext.

For me this the pinnacle of film with Francis Ford Coppola crafting the defining film of an era with the expert tools at his disposal. Quite simply this is the best film I have ever seen.