It was 1997: A few days after Oasis released its third album, I hung out with music journo J.D. Considine at a critics luncheon. Naturally, we discussed the hot topic of the moment: Were the Gallagher brothers destined for world domination? Or would they turn out to be a one-hit "Wonderwall" to U.S. fans?
In his Baltimore Sun review that Aug. 26, Considine likened the Brit band's Be Here Now to "the studio equivalent of Hamburger Helper, tasty filler that makes the meat go further." In City Paper, I lobbied the opposite: "The Gallagher bloodline separates the band's noise from all the others." At the time, whether you liked the band or not, it seemed Oasis was poised to live forever.
Fast forward fifteen years through fistfights, cancelled tours, AT&T commercials, one Beady Eye and some High Flying Birds, and I'm happy to report that the Gallagher brothers are alive and well in 2012 -- even if their blood is no longer thicker than water.
During our interview last week in Atlanta, where Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds performed a much-anticipated Good Friday gig at local haunt, The Tabernacle, with hometown boy Tim Smith in the band, the elder Gallagher sibling, now 44, referenced his rocky relationship with younger bro Liam, 39, by assuring, "We exchanged texts over Christmas. He's doing OK."
Prior to a 2009 split, their brotherly dynamic moved more than 70 million albums. Noel is glad the boon hit "when you could still make money selling records -- before the Internet," but doesn't mind re-entering the months-long tours inherent to a rocker's life (and wallet). "You've got to earn a living, haven't you?"
Noel Gallagher. Photo credit: Lawrence Watson. Courtesy of Permanent Press.
Although he's rocking a two-fer as a bold-typeface attraction at Coachella on both April 14 and 21, Noel has been grabbing headlines for more than hummable new songs such as "If I Had a Gun" and "AKA What a Life!"; He crafts hilarious blogs (clearly fluent in the *f* word) for Huffington Post U.K. and recently got up-close and personal on TV with one of his beloved Manchester City players (watch his interview with soccer star Mario Balotelli on the BBC here). Noel's also fascinated by a website that generates "reggae names" -- he loves to tell this story to everyone who interviews him -- and now signs all of his blogs with the handle, "General Dread." For Jam fans, Noel's neighbor and pal Paul Weller goes by the name, "Tough Levi."
If you plan to check out one of Noel's West Coast shows next week (hurry -- the tour moves on to South America in May), you can expect a few Oasis tunes to make the setlist, including an emotional encore of his signature, "Don't Look Back in Anger," but you'd be wise to check out his new album first: The melodies and the methods (albeit with mellower guitars) are as strong as they ever were.
"Simple Game of Genius" is a seven-minute slow-burner with a droning harmony-filled chorus; "Record Machine" makes the best use of that phrase since 1984, when David Lee Roth had his back up against one in Van Halen's "Jump." Although one of the standout tracks on Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds is "Let the Lord Shine a Light on Me," he dismisses the notion that any of his lyrics are personal or spiritual (there's truly no soul-searching there, Noel?) but facetiously admits to this Southern writer that he might "be massive in America" if he ever came out with a song that contained a bible verse.
When asked why his latest record sounds like it could have been written, well, anytime between 1994 and now, Noel scoffs at the notion that his post-Oasis musical identity need be any different:
"Are you supposed make music you don't like?" he says. "Are you supposed to make music you're not good at, just to satisfy -- who? I f**** HATE when you read interviews with other artists and they say, 'Yeah, with this record, we really got outside our comfort zone.' I make the music that is in my soul, and I like it. I just write songs that I like, and I record them. When I'm listening to records, I don't want Neil Young to sound like the Beach Boys or f***** Kraftwerk. I want Neil Young to sound like Neil Young. That's why I like him. That's why we fall in love with the music, isn't it?"