Noel Gallagher doesn’t stop the clocks on his long-threatened solo album. He merely rewinds them. The brains behind Oasis once again presents his impeccable taste in vintage Britrock on a record long on wistful introspection and short on the laddish euphoria that made his old band an occasional joy. High Flying Birds does, however, confirm that when Liam was allowed to write songs for Oasis it was in the interests of the division of labour rather than artistic merit.
Joined by former Oasis pianist Mike Rowe, drummer Jeremy Stacey of The Lemon Trees and percussionist Lenny Castro, Noel’s new kids on the flock brings us on a journey (in the non-X Factor sense of the word) back to a happier time where we, the listener, were constantly beseeched to “hold on” and reminded that we “gotta be strong enough for love.” This is Everybody’s On The Run, the multi-layered opener to High Flying Birds and it’s a song that represents the clichés encrusted with thickly applied string sections that make up a large part of the solo Noel’s output.
Likewise with Dream On which finds “a songbird is singing” and Noel reverting to the late Oasis’ default setting of jaunty Kinks barrelhouse piano and fat woozy brass. Elsewhere, If I Had a Gun is essentially a rewrite of Wonderwall before it falls off a cliff
The ghost of the recent past is never far away, however, and two Oasis cast offs make an appearance on High Lying Birds in the shape of (I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine which builds to an exultant guitar solo, and a revisiting of Stop The Clocks which really does sound like something cobbled together to flll out the running time.
Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks does at least engage with some sort of reality in a song concerned with war and political incompetence and which paints a vivid picture of grieving villagers in Wooton Basset and religious fundies in far flung lands both east and west. Musical leaps forward (in Noel terms) come in the shape of some lovely choral work from The Crouch End Festival Chorus, the use of a saw, and a bloke conjuring up a Ennio Morricone-like effect with the rim of a glass on (Stranded On) The Wrong Beach.
The best thing here by a long shot is AKA . . . What a Life! which has some of the dancefloor rush of Noel’s pre-fame Hacienda days and echoes his colourful excursion with The Chemical Brothers on Let Forever Be.
Strangely, for a man who gives the best quotes in rock, Noel has little to say, humorous or otherwise. Where are the kind of bon mots and lairy witticisms that he can delight with? A shame because ever since Liam and Noel stopped singing from the same spreadsheet, Oasis watchers will have pored over their respective lyrics looking for barbed exchanges between the estranged siblings. There's little sign of any here.
Big Brother certainly renews his membership of the village green appreciation society on High Flying Birds but musically a lot of this debut merely sounds like Oasis with clipped wings. The real solo Noel may emerge on next year’s collaboration with Amorphous Androgynous, the psychedelic side show from The Future Sound of London but on the basis of High Flying Birds, round one of wibbling rivalry (the return match) goes to our kid’s Beady Eye.
It’s a likeable enough album from a very likeable bloke but forget any Icarus metaphors – Noel solo is more earthbound than high flying.