Who Built The Moon?

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

Caroline / Sour Mash, 2017


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


I suppose Noel Gallagher wins this round.

The latest entry in the Gallagher sibling rivalry concerns not potatoes, but solo albums released within a couple weeks of each other. Liam’s As You Were was all party-ready modern-Oasis rock mixed with the occasional soul-searching afterparty thoughts, and was greeted with generally good reviews. Then, Noel’s High Flying Birds project released its third album shortly after. I’m sure it will be a fun Christmas at the Gallagher home this year.

Some 2017 year-end lists put both albums together in the same entry, considering them as one entity given the source, and while that’s unfair to both artists trying to make a name as solo artists, it’s not entirely unfounded. To be sure, as the chief songwriter for Oasis, Noel’s solo work will always sound a bit like latter-day Oasis, but he has tried hard on his three Birds albums to stay current instead of re-live the glory days. Fans with keen ears will spot the occasional lyrical reference to past Oasis songs, and if you look you can probably find some musical ones as well.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Still, this is not Britpop for 2017. Noel’s songs are layered with sound – a passion of his dating back for years – but are a little darker, a little slower, a little more ghostly, a lot more dense. They’re not songs with immediate musical hooks, but there are vocal ones, and the melodies and grooves wear in like an old glove in no time. The biggest contributor here is Noel’s lifelong love of electronica, which colors and imbues the tracks like “It’s A Beautiful World” and “Be Careful What You Wish For.” Make no mistake, this is still guitar rock, but Noel is adept at finding new dimensions to his sound; witness “Black & White Sunshine,” which fuses a fine riff, great vocal work, a bit of cello and a Stonesy attitude, then adds a swath of echo. It’s a great song.

Opener “Fort Knox” is unlike any other Gallagher song; nominally, it’s an instrumental rocker designed to set up the show, but it rides the electronics, cello, off-kilter percussion and wordless female vocals into something beyond audience bait. As a testament to all the swirling sound on display, the song features a jackhammer, and you hardly notice it. “Holy Mountain” is another highlight, a glam-rock trip and the most fun song here.

Although this isn’t a concept album, the second half has a couple of pleasant instrumental interludes bookending “If Love Is The Law” and the creepy “The Man Who Built The Moon,” which has one of those ominous wheedling musical motifs you hear in Halloween songs. The album ends with a bonus track, a live version of “Dead In The Water,” which is simply Noel and his acoustic guitar, a direct contrast to the sound and fury that has come before.

This sort of overproduction can come off as clutter, although it is certainly not out of the ordinary in 2017; if you listen to any Imagine Dragons hit, you’ll know the level of sound to expect here. Albums with a big sound sometimes tend to mask a lack of ideas (ahem, Be Here Now), but Noel sidesteps that by writing sturdy songs, the kind that grow on you with each listen. And even if nothing is as singularly amazing as “Ballad Of The Mighty I” from the last Birds album, the disc altogether is his best post-Oasis work yet.

Rating: B+

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