After the 2009 breakup of their incredibly successful rock band Oasis, perpetually fighting brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher went their separate ways. With him, Liam took the rest of the Oasis band members and formed a new group called Beady Eye whose debut album, which was released earlier this year to lukewarm reviews, called to mind an early Oasis sound with a bit of the Rolling Stones and Beatles thrown in. Older brother Noel went his own route and formed Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, whose name comes from a favorite Jefferson Airplane tune of his. With the help of longtime friends David McDonnell on guitar and Russell Pritchard on bass as well as a few studio musicians filling in here and there, Noel recorded the band's debut self-titled album, which was also released along with a half-hour making-of documentary called It's Never Too Late to Be What U Might Have Been. In the documentary, Noel, now age 44, compares making his new album to what it was like making Definitely Maybe, Oasis' first record, which was released in 1994. He explains that making the two albums were similar in that "you haven't got an audience," he said. "The only people that knew I was making a record was the wife and my manager."
The album features a few new tracks written after Oasis' breakup and a few tracks that Noel wrote years ago with the intention of having them released on an Oasis album. "Stop the Clocks," in fact, was recorded by Oasis twice over the years, but never managed to make itself onto an album (though the band did use the name for their Best Of record that was released in 2006). What comes of these songs, particularly the ones that were written five or ten years ago, is that they give Noel's new album a very strong Oasis-y feel. There are even songs, like "If I Had a Gun..." and "AKA... Broken Arrow," that begin with guitar strumming that you'd swear will break into "Wonderwall" at any moment. Even the beginning of the album's first track, "Everybody's On the Run," has that same dead air, then the sound of someone coughing, followed by music, just as "Wonderwall" does.
In response to his lack of creative departure on this album, Noel comments that "I'm not adept enough as a musician to go into a studio and say 'You know what? I wanna make a jazz album.' I can't do that... I can't read music. I'm not a great guitarist. I'm not a great singer. I'm great at being me and doing what I do." As a music critic, perhaps a bit more creative effort would be appreciated. However, as a Noel Gallagher fan, I really couldn't care less that he didn't decide to make a jazz album or at least something else even slightly more daring.
Tracks like "AKA... What a Life," "Everybody's On the Run," and "The Death of You and Me" certainly make up for any lack of daring departures though. "Everybody's On the Run" has lush, layered instrumentation that washes over and vibrates through you. It features a 24-piece string ensemble and 100-piece choir that swells and contrasts nicely against Liam's gritty rock and roll voice, electric guitar, and strong back beat. "The Death of You and Me," while still a rock tune at heart, has a slight Parisian feel (I'm serious) and a New Orleans-sounding horn bit at the end that is a little bawdy and incredibly enjoyable. "Good Rebel," a bonus track found on the deluxe edition, is also quite a gem with its optimistic pop beats, Wall of Sound layering, and Noel's wonderful vocals.
As a whole, the album feels meticulously crafted, mature, and even happy and optimistic (imagine that). Though some tracks are unfortunately a bit forgettable, there are a few surprises sprinkled throughout that should make any Noel Gallagher fan as happy as a clam.