Noel Gallagher is back with his High Flying Birds and their second studio album, Chasing Yesterday, and while it was always going to be a solid record, there are a number of big questions for it to inevitably face. Namely, how it stack up to the first album, and more importantly how it compares to the records that came out of the Oasis days. The short answer is that it does pretty well and while it’s a whole different beast in general it has a lot of musical intent, bringing with it some new directions for the breakaway brother.
Opening track Riverman is a great example of what we mean. It’s unmistakeably a Noel Gallagher song, with a traditional acoustic guitar rhythm running through it, but then its flecked with the kind of saxophone riffs and Pink Floyd inspired electric guitar solos that you wouldn’t really expect to hear on a Brit-pop track. It’s followed by lead single In The Heat Of The Moment, which is one of the catchiest songs on the album, but even here there’s something slightly different with surreal, almost mocking “na na nahs”. It’s also got an oddly addictive guitar wheedle, an eerie droning synth note and railing percussion flicks, all of which adds up to a pretty unconventional mix that manages to disguise itself as a radio friendly hit.
The Girl With X-Ray Eyes has its ups and downs, but this is all a part of its flowing storyline narrative, which switches from light notes to deep darkness bringing the musical tone of the track with it for the ride. The old love of The Beatles is evident in the song’s construction as it roves up and down pop trails, but that’s added to by the contrast of a black hole electric guitar riff that builds out the more turbulent portions of the story.
Lock All Of The Doors sounds like it came straight out of a Maximo Park playbook with a direct alt-rock pace. It’s not the smartest track on the album, starting out pretty terribly, but it turns out to be a whole lot of fun. Self aware without being self deprecating. However, things slow down a little too much on The Dying Of The Light with little of note coming to the fore.
It gets a bit more abstract on the jazz infused, long instrumental that leads into The Right Stuff. It makes for a stripped bare allegory for the album’s serious musical intent, escalating through the pitched duet with Joy Rose. There’s a little of Ian Brown about the song, highlighting the sidesteps, cross fades and lulled cascades into new directions that Chasing Yesterday goes on.
While The Song Remains The Same starts out with a very cool church organ intro before breaking into a pretty plain alt-pop track. In all fairness it does get a slight reprieve with the grunge fueled electric guitar solo section, but that doesn’t quite do enough to loft it up as high as some of the earlier tracks.
Things go back to abstraction, surrealism and hints of comedy in The Mexican, which has a slightly serrated edge with overdriven guitar, playful percussion and tongue in cheek “wa wa wahs”. It leads in well to the sheer pace of You Know We Can’t Go Back, with its stadium anthem chorus and upbeat sound contradicting the more pragmatic lyrics of it being alright to know you can’t go back.
The final track of the album, Ballad Of The Mighty I is a piano-based closer with a fast drum cadence acting as a counterpoint to the keys and strings. It’s complex and unexpected, like a well crafted movie Easter egg left to give you something new to think about. The trumpet work is class and the celestial violin end note is a thing of beauty.
For anyone opting for the deluxe edition, which we recommend, you’ll get four bonus tracks that add even more weight to Chasing Yesterday. This includes a smart Toy Drum remix of In The Heat Of The Moment and a previously unreleased Oasis track called Revolution Song. There’s also the sheer darkness of Freaky Teath, which is a gothic blues track, and Do The Damage.
What you get in Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ second album is a solid progression for the band and its front-man. It contrasts a little with the other bastion of the old Brit-pop wars, Blur, who has also recently returned with new material in The Magic Whip, following on from it’s own front-man’s solo debut, Everyday Robots. While both have moved on considerably, there seems to be a bit more of the old with the new when it comes to Noel, where Blur and Damon Albarn seem to have left a lot behind in favour of new directions. The good news is that both tacks seem to be working pretty well.
Lyrically, Noel is getting increasingly thoughtful and emotionally charged in his old age, like he’s been listening to a lot of Morrisey over the last year or so. It’s not all perfect, with a few seemingly dud lines like “I’m shaking like a leaf” on The Girl With X-Ray Eyes, but then these are just a symptom of the unabashed honesty that comes through on Chasing Yesterday.
During his time in Oasis it was easy for his talents to become a little overshadowed, but there’s no such canopy now. Chasing Yesterday is a strong new album for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds with a lot to keep you hooked in. It makes a good full album to return to with no real filler.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Chasing Yesterday review: 4/5