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Album Review – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: Chasing Yesterday

The album cover for Chasing Yesterday by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

Critics agree on two things in the post-Oasis world. First, the Gallagher brothers’ sibling-rivalry-cum-musical-chemistry was dynamite. Second, going halfsies on that chemistry has yielded disappointing results. Reviews of Noel’s first solo album and Liam’s two albums with Beady Eye were remarkably uniform in their analysis: High Flying Birds had the songs, Beady Eye had the spirit, and neither had both.

To be fair, Noel Gallagher has never lost sleep over what critics think. Why start now? On his sophomore effort Chasing Yesterday he pushes forward, undeterred in his quest for Oasis-free legitimacy. It may be a futile pursuit: solo careers, however impressive, rarely eclipse an artist’s work from their original band. George Harrison is a Beatle first; “Something” will outlive “My Sweet Lord.” And whether he likes it or not, “Wonderwall” will most likely outlast everything Noel has written and will ever write. (He actually loves it. Liam is less than enthusiastic.)

But legacies rarely rest on one song, Harrison is also a formidable solo artist, and Noel knows all of this already. Chasing Yesterday is the result of that knowledge: a showdown between his past within and his present outside the Oasis behemoth. But with its fair share of ghosts, the record occasionally makes it difficult to ascertain Noel’s motives – is he striving for something more or just something less Oasis?

Six years post-breakup, Liam still looms large in Noel’s songwriting. “The Girl With X-Ray Eyes” is the best Noel-penned track that Liam will never sing – but should. Ditto on “Lock All the Doors.” The most noteworthy songs are the one where imagining Liam doing a better job comes less easily. Chasing Yesterday is most persuasive during the Liam-free moments, which occur on the songs that either run you down locomotive-style or swallow you whole without a second thought. The tremendous “In the Heat of the Moment” is one such locomotive: energetic, intense, and held together by an unrelenting beat.

The mellower, more evocative tracks are not wholly unappealing, but they’re often dragged out longer than necessary. They cause the record to stall in the middle, sputtering at obvious dud “The Right Stuff,” a track made exponentially worse by a saxophone. “The Mexican” swoops in to save the day, stinging lyrics and saucy guitar work rescuing the back half and setting the stage for the album’s exceptional final cuts.

The first of those exceptional cuts, “You Know You Can’t Go Back,” is the song you hope plays as the credits roll in the movie of your life. Every glittering riff and swoon-worthy lyric (“Take me to my lover’s arms, I won’t wake up this time”) makes you believe in love again, even if you never stopped in the first place. And then it happens: “You Know You Can’t Go Back” levels and drains into Chasing Yesterday’s tour de force, the towering “Ballad of the Mighty I.” Johnny Marr lends jangly firepower on guitar, layered masterfully over a dangerous bassline. No more Noel Gallagher trying really hard not to sound like Oasis or Noel Gallagher inadvertently writing for his brother. Here Noel is Noel Gallagher, full stop.

Pretty much everybody – Paul Weller excluded – wants Oasis to bury the hatchet for one last spin around the champagne supernova. Noel still lacks Liam’s infinite charisma and unmistakable sneer. Liam still lacks the songs. Even so Noel’s album is a leap forward, and one that will make it easy to love the one we’re all with whether or not that reunion happens.

About the author:
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Elle is a writer and art student based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @ellecoxon

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