It’s been a bitter two years and two months since a back stage scuffle and a broken guitar caused Noel Gallagher to quit Oasis. It had been a tumultuous twenty-year career full of highs, lows and near continuous infighting, but many assumed the Gallaghers would be a permanent fixture on the British music scene, after all, what could Liam do to drive away his elder brother that he hadn’t already done?
Noel had outlasted the entire original lineup (outside Liam), resisting a decade’s worth of calls for a solo album in the process, suffering any number of indignities at the hands of his kin in the process. Perhaps outwardly cool and confident the elder brother secretly doubted himself. He may have had good reason, Liam, while the band’s junior partner as a writer and composer, embodied the character and drive of the band. He had the swagger, and never was his importance more keenly felt than in his absence.
In what must have been a crushing moment for Noel, at the height of the band’s fame, Liam decided to go house shopping, missing the band’s pivotal 1996 US tour. America was there for the taking, but without Liam the band appeared to lack its customary edge and energy, and Oasis soon fell from superstardom in the States, where they would never again enjoy a platinum or even gold LP. If that wasn’t bad enough, Liam was forced to miss the band’s MTV Unplugged appearance, citing a saw throat, but still found the strength to heckle the solo Noel from the crowd.
Whatever the case, after a year of stoic silence (by Gallagher standards) the arrival of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds was announced. Speculation was rife, as the second chapter of the Gallagher rivalry was set to reach its conclusion. Could Noel top Liam, what would Noel’s new record sound like and did he have anything left to offer after Oasis’ long and depressing decline?
Liam, naturally enough, had to have the first word, and the second, and the third, and fourth, and so on. Striking out alone almost immediately with the remnants of Oasis and launching a full-scale assault on Noel in the process.
First things first, before Liam could get round to recording a new album, or even coming up with a new band name, he launched into a series of attacks on his elder brother intermixed with his boastful braggadocio. Having ditched the Oasis name, which he declared “shit” saying he was glad to see “the back off it”, he set about launching his new project, Beady Eye.
After building up some critical goodwill with a series of surprisingly passable singles, the singer managed to once again sour the mood at The Brit Awards. When Liam went to accept the award for Best British Album Of The Last Thirty Years won by What’s The Story? (Morning Glory), an album written entirely by Noel, where he thanked each member of the original band, except Noel, before tactfully throwing the microphone into the audience.
On the 28th February Beady Eye’s Different Gear, Still Speeding was released to a mix of middling and negative reviews, and some mild commercial success (the album has recently gone Gold in the UK). While it was certainly an improvement on Liam’s worst work (“Little James”) it failed to live up to the promise of arguably Oasis’s last great single “I’m Outta Time”, and was weighed down by a whole host of derivate Beatles and The Who imitations.
Not to be deterred 2001 saw the band took to the road for a series of well-received low-key rock and roll shows. Based more on reputation than actual tangible success Beady Eye were afforded huge slots at both Isle Of Wight and Reading Festival where they duly flopped, as the band’s new material struggled to hold the attention of larger audiences who quickly began cat calling for Oasis material.
Perhaps facing up to the inherent mediocrity he appeared to inherit, Liam once again set his sights on his older brother. Filling a law suit over the Oasis split and accusing Noel of treating Oasis as his personal backing band, before posting “SHITBAG” on twitter on the day Noel’s debut album was released and going on to explicitly state that Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds had “no balls” and were “boring”.
Oddly, considering his disregard for his brother’s talent and recent output, Liam reportedly offered to reform Oasis, going as far as to say that Noel was “desperate” for a reformation. A rumour which the elder Gallagher has since laughed off.
Having largely tolerated a yearlong hail of abuse, and having seen his brother fail to capture the public’s attention, the older Gallagher must have had some doubts as he introduced the world to Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. As it turns out he had absolutely nothing to fear, lead singles “The Death Of You And Me” and “AKA…What A Life!” made the top 20 of the UK chart, and were quickly ushered onto BBC Radio One’s prestigious A playlist.
The sense of anticipation was palpable; it was becoming clear that his new band’s self-titled debut was going to fly into the charts on pre-orders alone, and duly, at the end of October, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds went straight to number one. More remarkably, despite only debuting less than two months ago, the album has already gone Platinum in the UK, crushing Beady Eye’s limited sale’s figures despite suffering an eight-month disadvantage.
Sonically, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is no more surprising than Beady Eye’s debut; just as Liam predictably leant on Lennon, Noel opts to continue the swaggering quaint English marching blues that typified his writing on Don’t Believe The Truth. The sound had been softened; in keeping with “The Importance Of Being Idle”, Noel focuses almost exclusively on anthemic waltzes, soaring choruses and swelling strings.
Taking full advantage of being free from the constraints of Oasis the rock band, Noel employs a wealth of strings and horns to give his music a sense of gentle uplift that it had lacked in the past. …High Flying Birds is an album of careful constructed sweeps and understated charm, it oozes a quiet British restraint: this is the true sound of Oasis’s contemplative one. Sadly, there is little innovation, and at times his music feels too safe. He’s a consummate craftsman, and his music is frighteningly precise, but the swagger and the earnest desire that made Oasis’s Definitely Maybe essential, is noticeably absent.
…High Flying Birds doesn’t lack “balls” as Liam suggests, but it could do with a change of pace, and while Noel effortlessly assumes the role of the grin and bear it dreamer, he lacks the requisite lyrical insight to bring this more understated medium to life. Still, there are plenty of gems scattered throughout the LP and “Everyone’s On The Run”, “If I Had A Gun”, “AKA…What A Life”, “Stop The Clocks” and “AKA… Broken Arrow” are begging to bellowed back by adoring audiences on Noel’s forthcoming arena tour.
This isn’t exciting music, but it isn’t bad either, and it’s wholly satisfying, and for a first tentative step into the solo realm it is something Noel can be genuinely proud of. It may be more Band On The Run than Plastic Ono Band, as Noel takes the role of the musical scholar and consummate balladeer, but it’s a formula that can help take Noel all the way to the top all over again.
Unlike his brother, Noel has decided to make his live show a fifty-fifty split between Oasis classics and High Flying Birds originals, and it’s clear that the British public can’t get enough. His staggering arena tour sold out in a matter of minutes (Liam barely managed to fill academies) and he will be playing Isle Of Wight Festival right before Bruce Springsteen, in the same slot Beady Eye occupied this time last year, giving him the perfect opportunity to prove to the biggest audience imaginable just who has come out on top in chapter two of the Gallagher soap opera.
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