Wednesday, 11 March 2015

REVIEW: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - 'Chasing Yesterday' (Sour Mash Records)

When you're currently writing some of the best music of your career, it must be frustrating to keep being asked when your old band are going to reform. But it clearly hasn't affected Noel Gallagher's post-Oasis creative resurgence as is proved by his second solo album 'Chasing Yesterday'. 

Its title may suggest an exercise in nostalgia and returning to the sound of the glory days, yet the relaxed acoustic-driven opener 'Riverman' immediately reveals that a rather different path lies ahead, conjuring up images of smoky rooms, and even stepping into space-jazz territory with a wild saxophone solo near the end. Don't go expecting some sort of radical reinvention though: writing solid, instinctive tunes for people to sing along to at the top of their voices is what Noel does, and there's no sign of him stopping any time soon. "Strength" is the word that comes to mind when 'In The Heat Of The Moment' punches you in the face with its irresistible chorus, but 'The Girl With X-Ray Eyes' is without a doubt something of a grower, based around a chord structure that comes across as rather unsettled at first. However after a few listens, it reveals itself to be a treasure, complete with a vibe that fuses Bowie's 'Moonage Daydream' with 'Stairway To Heaven'. Roaring in with layers of no-nonsense guitars, the electrifying 'Lock All The Doors' inspires that same invincible feeling as 'Hello' or 'Morning Glory', and took Noel over 20 years to finish writing. It'll certainly keep the Oasis fans happy.

The growing influence of The Smiths continues to find its way into the music, no more so than on the elegantly melancholic verses of 'The Dying Of The Light', a song that seems to lament the decline of popular culture and all the great things that have disappeared from it. "The world had turned and I'd become a stranger, and I'm tired of watching all the flowers turn to stone". Having first heard Noel's songs while he was still rising to the top in the mid 90s, it makes me feel my age when hearing him musing over the past in such a way, but also strikes a chord with me topic wise, as it will do with many others. Although we find Noel reminiscing about the good old days and coming to terms with the detritus of popular culture, you also get the impression that he's a lot more comfortable recording and releasing records without being surrounded by the madness that defined Oasis. 

After such a reflectively anthemic moment, the distinctly chilled Pink Floyd-meets-Primal Scream psychedelic jazz groove of 'The Right Stuff' will annoy those hoping for a whole album that sounds like Oasis, but the rest of us will surely welcome this most surprising departure. Feeling more liberated, Noel has started using his solo status to his advantage by going down routes that were restricted when he was part of a stadium rock band. Meanwhile the wondrous 'While The Song Remains The Same' is another beautifully introspective track which again bears echoes of The Smiths and finds Noel revisiting his home town to "walk the streets of my life while they still remain". It's another grower which in time reveals itself to be one of the man's finest. 

'Chasing Yesterday''s only flaw comes in the form of 'The Mexican', which has a verse melody far too similar to that of 'In The Heat Of The Moment' and comes across as a throwaway, especially in the company of the strong material that the rest of the album boasts. Noel has described it as being like a hybrid of Queens Of The Stone Age and T Rex, which is a pretty accurate summary, although the octaved "la la la la" bit after the chorus brings to mind Bowie again. Such shortcomings are made up for with the magnificent 'You Know We Can't Go Back', a lively piece of classic Gallagher magic with an absolutely belting singalong chorus. The album closes with the shadowy power-disco of 'The Ballad Of The Mighty I', another example of the interesting twists and turns and unpredictable chord changes that Noel wouldn't have even attempted in the 90s. Featuring some effortlessly brilliant guitar from Johnny Marr, it's a fine ending to a stellar piece of work.

Then we get the extra songs on the deluxe edition, the modern day equivalent of those old Oasis B sides that were sometimes just as good as the album tracks. And indeed 'Chasing Yesterday' would be even better if 'The Mexican' had been replaced with the riotous sax monster 'Do The Damage' or the infectiously uplifting 'Revolution Song', another track written and demoed during the Oasis years. The powerful potential Bond theme 'Freaky Teeth' is also superb.

The previous LP may be slightly more consistent and more immediate, but 'Chasing Yesterday' boasts brighter highlights and has a lot more to reveal underneath the surface. It's a record with one eye on the past and one on the new possibilities that lie ahead. Looking back at his history to determine where to go next, Noel seems to be both comfortable in his current position, and not afraid to step out of his zone with the occasional expectation-defying surprise. For those of us who have wisely kept the faith, The Chief continues to dish out the rewards. 9/10

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