The early days of Noel Gallagher’s solo career felt a little stilted, with a palpable reluctance to stray too far from what legions of Oasis fans might expect.
‘Stop The Clocks’ was famously one of their songs that never quite worked out and ‘Soldier Boys And Jesus Freaks’ paid affection homage to ‘The Importance Of Being Idle’.
At some point during the promotion of that record, Gallagher appeared to remember that he actually quite likes the musician lark and 2015’s ‘Chasing Yesterday’ was a little more playful in its nature. For all the headline-grabbing talk of saxophone usage, the key difference was the return of a deftness of touch that had deserted him some time around the turn of the millennium. ‘Riverman’ and ‘The Right Stuff’ revealed an artist in fine voice, quite willing to embrace an elder statesman role instead of attempting to prolong past glories.
Curiously, Gallagher had initially tried to recruit the producer of this third solo album to perform those duties on that promising predecessor, but David Holmes had no desire to do some limited polishing of already finished songs, instead insisting that any work they would do together would be built up from scratch. ‘Who Built The Moon?’ is the result of several years of on-off efforts that prioritised up-tempo inclinations and the pursuit of fun. While it might not represent a dramatic reinvention, you’re more likely to want to dance to its highlights than point aggressively and bellow along.
Take lead track and Ricky Martin-does-Slade delight, ‘Holy Mountain’. The horns are gloriously unrelenting, the vocal playfully distorted and the repetition euphorically shameless. However long the listener might spend trying to decide whether or not it is shit, it’s difficult not to be simultaneously swept along by its sense of abandon. It’s the tin whistle that does it, an instrument that is very much Noel 2.0 only. And the big choruses abound: ‘She Taught Me How To Fly’ and ‘If Love Is The Law’ are both joyous jangle-fests, the former all turbo-charged hi-hats and bold riffs, while the latter has a festive Spector-esque sleigh bell sheen.
Opener ‘Fort Knox’ will no doubt draw comparisons with Oasis’ ‘Fuckin’ In The Bushes’ from 2000 album ‘Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants’, but beyond being largely free of voices and having a pugnacious strut, the similarities are limited. The alarm bell that emerges around the halfway mark makes for something of a feat of endurance, but it’s an amusingly cacophonous way to signify a change of focus. Both ‘Interlude’ and ‘End Credits’, subtitled ‘Wednesday’ parts 1 and 2 respectively, offer more delicate, almost pastoral instrumental breaks. Gallagher may not have leapt to entirely fresh terrain with this album, but it’s considerably more ambitious than anything else he’s put out in the last 20 years.
‘Black And White Sunshine’ is more traditional fare that appears to have been filtered through Holmes’ box of tricks, swirling around a psychedelic soundstage, while ‘It’s A Beautiful World’ evokes Noel’s previous forays into electronic music. His treated, distant vocal on the chorus is a joy, even if the lyrics are dependably platitudinous: “it’s a beautiful dream, a beautiful night, a beautiful world when we dance in the light” and so on. ‘Keep On Reaching’ is a bombastic soul blast with a soaring chorus, but Gallagher’s own comparisons with Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye are comically far-fetched.
It is perhaps fitting that even its creator is unhelpfully setting the bar too high for ‘Who Built The Moon?’ as so many listeners will come to this with expectations of what he should be doing right now and be disappointed as a consequence. It’s not an Oasis record and it’s not a wholly experimental album either. However, it is his best work in an age and an interesting marker for a Weller-esque creative purple patch from an artist rediscovering their sense of purpose. As winter descends, these songs offer up an enveloping array of melody and an endearingly gleeful playfulness that is hard to resist.