When I first fell in love with Oasis’s music, I was largely drawn to Liam’s vocals. I don’t think there’s ever been a lead man quite like him, and his voice was one of a kind. But as the band rolled on, sliding out of their spot as most popular band in the world, Noel began to assert himself more as a vocalist (and less as a writer.) He seemed to save some of the best songs for himself to sing. Oasis’s best work was often b-sides and bonus tracks found on EP’s and the like; the work that never made the LP’s. Most of those gems were sung by Noel.
In the meantime, Liam’s vocal work, with some exception, seemed to steadily decline in the 2000’s. Frankly, his voice is shot, probably from too many cigarettes, Guinness and all night partying. Sometimes it’s hard to listen to him, as is the case on Beady Eye’s debut album. What became of Muhammad Ali’s body is kind of what happened to Liam’s voice. If he could write great songs, perhaps that wouldn’t matter.
All that meant that the best work on the last few Oasis albums was created and sung by Noel. It became inevitable, I think, that he would break away from the band and put out superior work. That is what he has done.
On Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Noel put together a collection of songs stronger than the last couple of Oasis records. His first solo album is much what you expect from him. It sounds like a compilation of sorts of all the great Noel-sung b-sides and bonus tracks. Admittedly, High Flying Birds sounds a bit like an Oasis album. But it’s an album full of songs that are reminiscent of “Falling Down” and “The Importance of Being Idle,” and tunes of that quality.
His vocals are superb! In some spots, unfortunately, he double tracks them, distorts them or obscures them with layers of other sounds. If Noel weren’t a good singer, that would make sense.
“Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks” and “The Death of You and Me” have that jaunty bounce of a Kinks pop tune. “The Death of You and Me” is quite similar to “The Importance of Being Idle,” mostly due to the heavy falsetto vocals. “If I Had a Gun” channels “Wonderwall.”
“AKA…What A Life” is a bass heavy with a neo-disco beat. You might hear it in a Eurotrash club someday. “(Stranded On) the Wrong Beach” is a nice mid-tempo rocker, with a bit of gritty guitar. “Everbody’s on the Run” and has some oomph but relies heavily on sounds effects and psychedelic-tinged backing vocals. It has a power and passion that makes it irresistible. “AKA…Broken Arrow” is another track that borrows something from “Wonderwall,” though it’s a bit more uptempo. It’s one of the weaker tracks.
The two most disappointing tracks are “(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine” and “Stop the Clocks.” Both were demo’d for Oasis and leaked to the internet after Dig Out Your Soul was released. To me, “Record Machine,” at least in demo form, was one of Noel’s top 5 best songs. On High Flying Birds, he blunted the edge of the song by cluttering it with choir-like background vocals and swirly organs. I hoped he would do something different with it for the album — we already had the demo to enjoy. But he cluttered it in much the same way Phil Spector heaped vocals and layers of instrumentation on “Let it Be.” “Stop the Clocks” is…well…a bit sad and dull. He’d have been better off to bury that one or put it out as a bonus track.
Keep your ears peeled for the b-sides, “The Good Rebel” and “A Simple of Game of Genius.” “Good Rebel’s” respectable and “Genius” should have displaced “Stop the Clocks” or “AKA…Broken Arrow.” It has a stomping beat, nice slippery bass lines, nice rock guitar and solid vocal work. It’s a happier “Let’s All Make Believe.”
All in all, this is a really nice disk. It’s hard to say whether it will stand the test of time, as they say. But it will almost surely sound better than “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” and “Heathen Chemistry” sound today. And, for what it’s worth, it beats the living daylights out of Beady Eye’s thing.