Is Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds the album fans have been waiting for? After a preview listen to most of the cuts, we'd say so - definitely not maybe! © Simone Cecchetti/Corbis
Noel Gallagher strolled out onto the rooftop of New York's swanky Mondrian Soho Hotel last evening (25 August), exuding the sangfroid cool of a guy without a care in the world.
The singer-songwriter and guitarist, casual chic in jeans and a fitted plaid shirt, his hair closely cropped, was in the Big Apple to say hello to an intimate gathering of label execs and journalists who had just heard a six-song preview of his upcoming solo album, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds.
'Much-anticipated' solo album, that is. In a pre-playback speech, Mercury Records President David Massey, who during his time at Epic Records signed Oasis to the US, alluded to the fact that a Noel Gallagher disc was something that fans had clamored for since the band's debut in the early '90s. "But Noel was quite clear that there would would never be a solo album from him as long as there was Oasis," Massey said.
A few minutes later, with glasses clinked and good cheers exchanged all around, we were treated to a generous helping of the ten tracks that make up Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. What follows are MusicRadar's general impressions of the songs - and it should be stressed that what we heard was in a group setting, with several chatty Cathy's nearby.
1. Everybody's On The Run
A rousing opener. Epic in nature, recalling the grandeur of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, with soaring background vocals and heart-tugging strings that blend for a massive dramatic sweep. Throughout, Noel sings like a desperate, impassioned soul, weaving melodies that swirl around one's head but stick like glue. The bridge has a classic rock feel and a symphonic intensity. Acoustic guitars overwhelm and lead into the last resounding chorus. Before it's over, however, the music drifts away, leaving Noel, alone on a hilltop, beautiful and tragic, calling out the title hook. Wow, that's one smashing number!
2. Dream On
No, it's not a cover of the Aerosmith gem, but it's just as striking in its own way. A jaunty, pounding beat underpins briskly strummed acoustics, making Dream On feel like something of a more aggressive She's Electric, but Noel, in a more throaty vocal, brings a new kind of charm to the proceedings. Brass dominates the middle section, with a trumpet solo that transports one to New Orleans. "Dream on/ shout it out to me," Gallagher pleads in the final chorus as drums and brass build, only to be overtaken by electric guitars that conclude the song with a rocking flourish. Expect major sing-along action.
3. If I Had A Gun
Ever since leaked soundcheck demos of this song appeared on the internet, much interest has attended its studio rendering, and the results don't disappoint. After a bare bones, acoustic-and-vocal, quasi-Wonderwall opening, If I had A Gun blossoms into just what might become a modern-day rock standard. Gallagher's vocals are emotional but never mawkish. The bridge and solo sections are stirring, with acoustic guitars and strings piling up. But it's Noel's double or triple-tracked harmonies, haunting and vulnerable, that really hit the target. Hands-down winner on this one.
4. The Death Of You And Me
Being that it's the first single from High Flying Birds, the capoed acoustic intro that ushers in Noel's gentle falsetto is already familiar to millions. The overall mood is laid-back, '70s-era Kinks, with a melancholy Gallagher singing, "High time, summer in the city/ kids are looking pretty/ but isn't it a pity in the sunshine." And, of course, he draws out the last word, making it almost a sneer - "sunshiiiiine." While the track bears an unmistakable resemblance to The Importance Of Being Idle, it gradually takes on its own form, looming larger, with another taste of New Orleans-style brass creeping in.
5. (I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine
An endearing, wondrous cut. Over an acoustic guitar and a Phil Spectorish jingle stick, Noel begins singing what might be his own teenage symphony to God. Bass and electrics climb aboard, with Noel's double-tracked voice becoming mega. Strings emerge, big and bold, in a chorus that's an absolute grabber - we're talking fists in the air. Whether it's an homage to the Wall Of Sound or not, it caresses the senses in much the same way. The sonics increase, and before long Noel is at the top of his lungs, open-hearted and open-throated - it's a delirious feeling. After a brief, gentle break, the song breaks away into a grand gallop. Here's one pony that can't be tamed.
6. AKA... What A Life!
A pounding four-on-the-floor beat drives this incessant rocker. Noel, cynical and evil, sings with a world-weariness, and as he hammers home the chorus, he again draws out the last word, making it "liiiiiiife." Piercing guitars link the verse and chorus sections, and right when you least expect it, an honest-to-goodness six-string solo breaks out - and it's a spine-tingler, too. An elongated verse ends the song on an ominous note, but it's one that leaves the listener breathlessly waiting for more.
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds will be released on 17 October 2011 (8 November in the US).