Chasing Yesterday

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

Sour Mash, 2015

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


I’m going to resist the temptation to take the easy way out and use the title of this album as the basis for this review. By doing that, the review pretty much writes itself and you would have no reason to read the rest.

Besides, Noel Gallagher has never lost the gift of being able to write engrossing, enveloping, dynamic rock anthems, from the heady days of early Oasis to that band’s more mature but no less enduring latter albums to Chasing Yesterday, which is a blend of both. It’s far better than the Birds’ debut in both sound – the songwriting and textures actually vary from track to track – and spirit, which finds Gallagher firmly in control and not afraid to stretch a bit instead of rewrite the same warmed-over second-rate Oasis album cut.

The best tracks are easily the opening and closing songs. “Riverman” starts much like Wonderwall (which is 20 years old now) and floats along with its high-pitched acoustic strums and layers of sound, much like we’ve come to expect from Gallagher’s music…but then after the first verse a welcome guitar solo shoves its way in, followed by a warm saxophone solo. This pattern is repeated again after the second verse and to the song’s end, and the romantic contrast of the two instruments is a thing of beauty, adding weight and dimension to what could have been mundane.

“Girl With The X-Ray Eyes” adds ghostly keyboards that sound borrowed from my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Led Zeppelin IV and a brief guitar solo straight off the Beatles’ White Album, but such direct homages to the classics are few and far between. By now, the Oasis sound is firmly established, and it’s in full effect here, from the layers of guitar and tambourine (check out how much the exciting “Lock All The Doors” cribs almost verbatim from “Morning Glory”) to the cheeky audacity of…well, pretty much every song. He may be older, he may be wiser, he may not have Liam to steal the spotlight, but Noel still writes big stadium anthems with a big stadium sound and dares you not to get caught up in it. Certainly, the indie rock trend is that less is more, but Noel has never cared, so why start now? God love him for it.

The midsection of the disc is taken up by two songs unlike Gallagher’s previous music; the best is the psychedelic-infused “The Right Stuff,” which grounds its ethereal vocal duet with some solid bass work, noodling electric guitar and the return of the saxophone at a prudent juncture; surely, it has a precedent in ‘70s music somewhere, maybe a manly cross between Traffic and Bitches Brew, but it firmly exists in the now, wherever that may be. It never would have made it on any of Oasis’ first four albums, that’s for sure.

I couldn’t get on board with “The Mexican,” which has the elements of a good song but peters out about halfway through, or the midtempo “In The Heat Of The Moment.” “You Know We Can’t Go Back” may be about a relationship or a jab at Oasis fans; it’s not terribly memorable anyway, but perhaps Noel had to get something off his chest. But the closing “Ballad Of The Mighty I” more than makes up for these three missteps; over a neo-disco thump, Gallagher, guitarist Johnny Marr and a piano turn in a dark, dreamy and very catchy slice of Britpop. It’s best listened to loud, it’s the best song Gallagher has written since 2008 (and the most unlike-Oasis piece of his solo career), and it’s the fastest five minutes of your week once you hear it.

A deluxe edition of this disc exists with four extra tracks; worth seeking out is the garage rocker “Do The Damage,” which strips back most of the excess on the other songs for a tune the Black Keys could cover at their next show. The other three are of a piece with the rest of the disc but a little less revelatory.

As it turns out, Chasing Yesterday would have been an ideal title for the Birds’ first album, since that’s about all that disc did. This one shakes up the formula in ways Gallagher hasn’t fully explored yet while staying firmly rooted in his signature sound, and while that may not be enough to sway non-fans, for the converted this is a breath of fresh air. Forget yesterday. This is today.

Rating: B

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