On his solo debut, Noel Gallagher ditches Oasis’s stadium-ready rock in favor of more intimate ballads you can hardly imagine younger brother Liam wrapping his hoarse vocal cords around. And this is exactly where Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds works best, when the elder Gallagher isn’t ferrying the well-worn Oasis formula that he’d adhered to with increasingly ill effect over the last decade with the band. In addition to being the most sonically adventurous collection of songs Gallagher has released to date, these are also his best since (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
For what’s unquestionably the strongest string of songs on the album, Gallagher marries the Kinks’ sound with Dixieland jazz to wondrous effect, despite the fact that these tracks all flaunt features reminiscent of the former’s “Dead End Street,” and are effectively exploring similar territory to what Gallagher did on “The Importance of Being Idle”: “The Death of You and Me” haunts and beguiles in equal measure, “Dream On” deftly imparts lashings of gruff jazz onto Gallagher’s sky-high anthem blueprint, while “Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks” sounds like it could quite neatly slot into the Kinks’ Something Else. The Kinks’ influence is crystal clear throughout, and there’s no doubt that aping Ray Davies brings the best out in Gallagher.
There are still some residual Oasis-style routines littered throughout the album though. Two of them, “Stop the Clocks” and “(I Wanna Live a Dream) In My Record Machine,” are, in fact, recycled Oasis demos. The former is the album’s grandiose curtain call, an overblown anthem where blockbuster guitar solos, theatrical choir parts, and searing refrains collide in typical latter-day Oasis fashion. And though “Stop the Clocks” really is overblown to the nth degree, there’s an earnest charm lurking beneath the layers upon layers of extravagant pageantry, and it’s this charm that sets the song (and, indeed, the album at large) apart from the syrupy clangers that Gallagher’s made a habit of writing ever since the ham-fisted Heathen Chemistry.