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”.