Published on April 14th, 2015 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday
Does Noel Gallagher’s new album live up to those from Oasis’ glory days? Does it have to? We look at the new record, ‘Chasing Yesterday.’
The first thing I heard Noel Gallagher say about his new album is that it has a “shit title,” followed by a funny story of how that came to be. Noel loves to talk about his music, music in general, and he’s armed with startling wit and humour. This is so much the case that he may have more of a career as a travelling interview subject than musician. He’s great at interviews and even when we watch him make the professional, requisite circuit to promote something new, and answer the same questions again and again, he never fails to entertain and illicit a laugh. Any time I have a bad day at work, I come home and YouTube ‘Noel Gallagher Interview.’ Half a beer later, I’ve laughed off all my bad feelings. Had rock ‘n roll not been his life’s passion, I think we would be seeing Noel host the Golden Globes rather than Ricky Gervais. Gallagher is that funny and talented; he’s practically a comedian on the road now.
But I digress — back to the shit title. It’s a keen observation by Noel, and I agree. ‘Chasing Yesterday’ is a terrible title because it’s implying a sentiment untrue to the album. Like Noel sits around all day wishing he were younger, that it was 1996 all over again. It’s hardly the point of the album, and perhaps even the opposite of what I got out of my first few listens. Don’t worry, no one has forgotten that Noel was the star songwriter of the mighty Oasis, Knebworth, legend, rock god.
The first track gave me the same feeling I had when I first played ‘Go Let It Out’ EP back some 15 years ago. The Gallaghers’ volatility was both the strong allure and the caveat of their catalogue. It’s nice to play ‘Chasing Yesterdays’ intro track and not feel like the album you just bought is a desperate experiment gone wrong. A strong and patient opener at 5:42, ‘Riverman’ carefully assures us that we’re going to get some genuine and trademark Noel, and he tempers it with some new production approaches and a little bit of saxophone done in a rare and acceptable fashion.
I’m trying at this point not to get over-excited and asking too many questions that compares what I’m hearing to Oasis. But I can’t help it. Would any of these songs be good enough to blend in on ‘Morning Glory?’ Who was the better singer, Liam or Noel?
Track two begins with a cocky lyrical fill of “na-na-na-na-na” and I suddenly consider that Noel asks himself the same questions. ‘In the Heat of the Moment’ is a cool track, but the “na-na-na-na-na” (Jesus, I hate typing that) is not a Noel move. That’s a Liam move. Liam has a gift of nasal snarl and street spit cool for singing that. Even Blur do a better job with (basically) the same vocal fill on ‘Charmless Man,’ where it comes across in more effective fashion. But the albums carries on well.
The guitar work is great, and the bass lines sound more like Gem Archer confidence rather than the Bonehead standard fill. The liner notes imply that Noel himself did a lot of the heavy lifting with regards to the actual playing of instruments on the album, crediting himself with a half dozen instruments, plus vocals. Noel is a top songwriter and guitar man himself, but there has to be a dozen other people (there has to be, right?) contributing their talents, vocals, and instruments to the album, and they all fit together really well under the direction of producer…wait for it…Noel Gallagher. I wonder again if this is as valuable as an Oasis record and if having Liam in the mix would do any good.
Keith Richards was once asked about his lead vocals on ‘Happy’ (‘Exile on Main Street’), where the interviewer seemed keen that he had a good enough voice to do more singing. Richards famously replied, “But then, what would Mick do? Bang a fucking tambourine?” That story, true or not, always made me laugh. I knew then that Keith Richards was the kind of musician that would make music til he died, Mick or no Mick. I can’t picture The Rolling Stones without Mick and I don’t want to. I can’t picture Oasis without Liam, and I don’t want to, but I don’t HAVE to. The beauty of this album is that it’s a different kind of deal than Oasis, without lacking any of the basic ingredients that made Oasis brilliant.
Noel can basically perform any task, and only his lyrics can be questioned in terms of their worth. Noel writes great melody, he stays away from chord driven repetition to keep from being boring, and his music is always a little trippy and psychedelic. But we know he’s not the greatest wordsmith. Hell, apparently he can’t even pick out a proper title, but that’s okay. It’s okay because great tunes that get you feeling good are excused from bland lyrical content and yes, even misdelivered “na-na-na-na-nas”.
As the album winds down I find a couple of gems, and a nice conclusion to the record. ‘You Know We Can’t Go Back’ is buried at the second to last track and I find it to be my lost Oasis song. That’s the one that could be swapped out on an old Oasis album and been your favourite song from the summer of ’98. It’s also here that Noel sings, “Gone are the days and the dreams we screamed out loud” and you know he’s not trying to be the rock star he was. He’s a husband and a dad, he sings about love of a woman, rather than love of cigarettes & alcohol, but he’s still delivering good music.
And to that end, and the end of this record, the closer is ‘Ballad of the Mighty I’ (now there’s your title, Noel!), a collaboration with Johnny Marr. Powerful, directional, and with a horse-hoof beat that never blinks, even the over thought backing vocals and double tracking vocals don’t deter from that fact that this is a great tune. But you know what? I listened to it twice before I found little Johnny. The Johnny Marr contribution had me very excited, pre-release. I heard Noel gas on in an interview about how he finally got to work with his favourite guitar hero, and as a big fan of the Smiths, I too applauded this collaboration. But Noel made it seem like just that — a collaboration. The fact is, the contribution of Marr sailed right by me the first two times I listened to the album. During the last minute of vocal-less run out at the end of the album, Johnny works his magic for a grand total of 24 seconds. Granted, it’s as slick a bit of picking the man has ever done, but c’mon! Noel doesn’t seem to have the ability to step aside and let ANYONE (that includes you, Johnny) have a dominant moment or equal share of spotlight for any significant length of time. I’d like to hear another tune by these guys as a co-written piece and see where that goes. Somewhere uber-magical, I suspect.
From terrible title to brilliantly subtle ending, Noel Gallagher is on track and steady, making his next offerings seem too distant and more intriguing than ever before. ‘Chasing Yesterday’ may not have a title that makes you want to dive for your wallet, but the content is rich and bountiful and Noel tells us flat out that we can’t go back, it’s gonna be alright, love is good and the right woman is better than hundred women from twenty years ago. Given time, this is a record that will eventually sit as well as anything Noel has ever had to offer. I hope that this is someone’s summer album the way ‘The Masterplan’ was once mine.