Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds review – anti-nostalgia set doesn’t look back in anger

Unlike his brother, Gallagher Sr mostly refuses straightforward Oasis renditions, and instead embraces electronic drones, dance-rock and saxophones. 

As Noel Gallagher departs the stage at the end of his UK tour’s first date, he tells the audience to get home safely and that he’ll see them soon. “Probably at some shitty festival,” he adds. “We’ll be third on the bill. Fucking travesty.”

It’s clearly meant as a joke, but there’s a certain edge to it. The last six months have been a curious period in Gallagher’s career. He released ”Who built the moon” by some considerable distance the most interesting album he’s made since the mid-90s, and the sort of record he’s been threatening to make ever since Oasis split up. A collaboration with dance producer, DJ and soundtrack composer David Holmes, it pushed Gallagher out of his comfort zone of mid-tempo anthems and Beatles references into more colourful and spacier territory: it touches on ambient electronica, New Order’s shimmering dance-rock hybrid, easy listening, and the sonically super-saturated glam of Roy Wood’s Wizzard. For his trouble, he’s been bested commercially by his brother’s debut solo album As You Were, on which pop songwriters-for-hire were drafted into the aforementioned comfort zone: mid-tempo anthems and Beatles references abound.

Perhaps the problem is that Noel should have made Who Built the Moon? 20 years ago. If you spend decades dealing in more of the same, that’s what people come to llexpect of you – they’re bound to react coolly when you suddenly start breaking out the trombone and the French spoken-word interludes from Charlotte Marionneau (formerly of My Bloody Valentine-affiliated experimentalists Le Volume Courbe), who’s also spotted at one juncture using a pair of scissors as percussion.

Still, better late than never, and there’s something pleasingly bullish both about the sound of High Flying Birds – simultaneously expansive and powerful, not least on the brass-assisted Keep on Reaching, which feels like the work of a band rather than backing musicians – and about the show’s implicit suggestion that his audience can very much like his new direction or lump it. While his brother comes onstage to Oasis’ old intro music and immediately starts clobbering them with the contents of Definitely Maybe, Gallagher Sr’s appearance is preceded by a lengthy passage of electronic drone, his set opens with the Screamadelica-ish near-instrumental Fort Knox and proceeds through four songs in a row from Who Built the Moon? Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back in Anger aside, it steps lightly around Oasis’ big hits, concentrating instead on previous moments from Gallagher’s solo oeuvre when he pushed more gently against his self-imposed boundaries: the sax-heavy Riverman, the house-influenced AKA… What a Life!

Occasionally, when he does dip into the Oasis catalogue, it acts as an intriguing study in contrasts. Half the World Away is still fantastic, but a trudge through Little By Little serves to remind you of what you’re not missing. It goes down a storm, but it feels leaden next to She Taught Me How to Fly’s breezy sparkle or the propulsive honk of Holy Mountain. There’s the sense of a man slogging away trying to recapture the inspiration that propelled Oasis to the top in the first place, versus the sound of man who seems genuinely inspired once more, powered by something other than nostalgia for Oasis’ mid-90s moment in the sun.

Source: TheGuardian