“My manager asked me who the High Flying Birds are. They aren’t anyone in particular. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is me and whoever is around at the time of whatever it is that I’m doing, a loose collective kinda thing”.
Every music fan in the UK and beyond will remember that fateful day in August 2009. A backstage argument of epic proportions, between brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher at the Rock En Seine festival in France, resulted in the sudden break-up of the Oasis, “the band who defined a generation”.
Two years on and we’ve already heard the response from Liam and his band Beady Eye. Their 2010 debut Different Gear, Still Speeding was met with general critical and popular acclaim, with Q Magazine claiming that it “was the strongest record Liam’s made since What’s The Story (Morning Glory).”
And now it’s Noel’s turn. There was a great deal of anticipation and expectation for this record, and the good news is… it doesn’t disappoint.
Produced by Gallagher himself alongside former Oasis producer Dave Sardy, the album is one which is experimental and musically complex in its nature – far more so than most Oasis records. Noel says that “I’ve got a guy playing wine glasses on one song, a saw on another”. It makes for interesting and quite brilliant listening. Catch the low-down, track by track below…
1. Everybody’s On The Run
The record opens emphatically, with a perfect track to serve as the pre-cursor as to what is to come. The longest song on the album, it features a string arrangement courtesy of The Wired Strings, a choir and multiple changes of pace, making it a track which truly keeps you on your toes. Putting this one first really is a signal of intent from Noel, who seems determined to shake off his Oasis days. Noel urges me to ‘hold on’, and I am only too willing to oblige.
2. Dream On
Then comes ‘Dream On’, a track which has lots of lovely minor chords throughout, which in itself creates a dark and almost hostile atmosphere in the song. The driving drum keeps an almost military feel to the song, and despite this getting a little laborious towards the end, the appearance of brass and Noel’s incredible lyricism is more than enough to make up for it.
3. If I Had A Gun
Noel described this track as “emotionally uplifting and up there with the best I’ve written”. No objections from me here. This song is about two young lovers who try to find a way to be together, and the euphoric chorus embodies this theme perfectly. This was originally intended to be the lead single from the album, but Noel opted for The Death of You And Me as he felt that this sounded “too much like Oasis”.
4. The Death Of You And Me
This was the lead single from the album and truly is one of my favourites from the album. Noel says that the song is based around the idea that “the idea that however good things are, a bit of anything will always be shit”. Typical British optimism. It has a properly old-fashioned feel to it, and again exemplifies the experimental nature of the album – the song spontaneously bursts into a flurry of brass a few minutes in. If there was any song on the album which could prove that Noel had left all traces of Oasis in France, this is it. (Plus the video is pretty cool, you can check that out below.)
5. (I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine
Here’s the most Oasis-sounding track on the entire record, but even then it features both strings and a choir, all of which are used to build up to an anthemic climax, which includes a short but sweet guitar solo…Very nice.
6. AKA… What A Life!
This is the second single taken from the record, and again, in my opinion, one of the standout tracks from the ten provided. It’s the most upbeat and celebratory of the bunch, with a swift rhythm and driving beat providing the back-bone to a brilliantly produced piece of music. All of the instruments: drums, piano, bass and guitars are layered exquisitely here, making for a magnificent listen. Amazingly, Noel originally had mixed feelings about this one. I’ve got no idea why.
7. Soldier Boys And Jesus Freaks
Then follows another upbeat song, the poignant Soldier Boys And Jesus Freaks. It is a track which is tinged with melancholy and sadness, and the use of a descending chord sequence and solitary brass manages to reinforce this. It is a very emotive song, one which manages to make you feel and think all sorts of things… it takes an extraordinarily accomplished songwriter to be able to do that.
8. AKA… Broken Arrow
When I first listened to this, the opening few chords starkly reminded me of Wonderwall, but on speed. Whether Noel did this unintentionally or out of irony is open to interpretation, but I’ve got a fair idea of which one it might be. This one’s another uplifting and anthemic affair, utilising strings once again. I haven’t mentioned much of Noel’s vocal performance as yet, but it really must be commended: strong, powerful and emotive, perfectly suited to the songs that he has written.
9. (Stranded On) The Wrong Beach
Good old rock and roll at its finest. A driving bass-line coupled with a strong drum beat makes this song very easy to get into, and this is another of my favourites from the record. There is an almost haunting melodic guitar pattern which plays intermittently, as Noel remains in his favoured minor keys for added melancholy. Brilliantly produced, this one is far more simple than its forerunners, and harks back to the old Oasis days. Not that Noel would like that. Oh no.
10. Stop The Clocks
The record finishes triumphantly, with the brilliant Stop The Clocks, a track that was written over 10 years ago and was originally intended for inclusion on the Don’t Believe The Truth album in 2004. This is an example as to how timeless Noel’s songs are, you just need to listen to Morning Glory today to further understand why. Noel says that track was written about “a dream I had one night. It’s wondering about if you were dead, how would you know you were actually dead, how would you know you were actually alive? When you go to bed and you dream dreams… if you never woke up, how would you know? Maybe we’re all just dreaming now.” That’s some deep shit right there, showing a side to Noel that we aren’t familiar with. And I think that’s what the album’s sort of about. This track is the perfect ending to the record – it deals with the theme of death, it is musically and lyrically far beyond anything that Oasis released since Morning Glory. Drum and guitar solos bring a triumphant closing curtain on an incredible 45 minutes of music.
Final Thoughts: An incredibly accomplished record that draws primarily on Noel’s desire to express himself creatively after being stuck in a rut with Oasis. I was beginning to lose faith in modern guitar music… not any longer. However, I could probably sum it up in three words that would please Noel the most: better than Liam.
If you like what you hear, the album is available to download from Amazon for just £3.99 just now, you can grab it HERE.
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