The rote storyline that presents itself as a backdrop to Noel Gallagher’s solo debut is overwhelmingly obvious: Oasis splits, seemingly for good. Arch-brother Liam and the rest of the group form Beady Eye and release a largely dispassionate record, and in between legal sibling sparring, Noel unleashes a competing project, knowing but maybe not caring that the two are destined for endless and obsessive comparison. Of the two he always seemed less taken with the tabloid edge of things, but there’s certainly a fire in his tortured gut on the aptly named High Flying Birds.
Noel’s intention to make at least some manner of statement is bracingly apparent —the anthemic orchestral swellings and searching vocals of “Everybody’s On the Run” operate on the epic scale of Oasis’ most confident songs, while “If I Had A Gun” is the spiritual offspring of “Wonderwall” without being disappointingly derivative of its mega-hit predecessor. While not everything has the focus of those standouts, there’s a bristling energy throughout as songs end in rave-ups, harrumph with lavish structure and otherwise revel in Noel’s appreciable compositional skill. Underneath the coke and yobbery, an earnest heart always beat within Oasis’ best work, and it’s this stream of their collective soul that Noel has always better tapped.
For those diehard Noel partisans who feel like his vocals on “Acquiesce” might be the pivotal emotional moment in the Oasis catalog, this album provides an extra measure of proof that he’s the more indispensible of that particular duo of mop-haired misanthropes. Listening to the lyrics of “(I Wanna Live A Dream In My) Record Machine,” you almost forget that the moment of yearning it portrays comes not from a young artist straining himself bloody for an audience, but instead someone who has been to the mountain and back a few times over. Coming from a band that derives a certain amount of its notoriety from seeming jaded and indifferent, Gallagher’s solo flight is actually stunningly pure and beautifully rendered.