On his second album, Noel settles into solo life with brutish thrills, buoyant melodies and swampy psych rock
At 47 years old, after more than 20 years in the game and with Oasis now well and truly behind him, what do we really expect from Noel Gallagher? For the first time in a long time, there’s a crop of new British bands who didn’t grow up in thrall to his old one and, while he might frequently lament the loss of “working class rage” in rock’n’roll, Noel is hardly the man to do anything about it. That’s no longer his responsibility. If pop music were a parliamentary system, you fancy he’d be found pissed on the backbenches of the House Of Lords, happily soliloquising about the way things used to be.
The title of his second solo album doesn’t do much to rebut that idea. Call it residual sibling rivalry, call it a lingering uncertainty about his place in the post-Oasis scheme of things, but 2011’s acclaimed, healthy-selling solo debut ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ felt like a record with something to prove. By contrast, parts of ‘Chasing Yesterday’ can seem muscle-memorised, never more so than on songs like ‘The Girl With X-Ray Eyes’ and ‘The Dying Of The Light’, a pair of determinedly epic arena ballads of the sort that he could write in his sleep.
But then, because he’s Noel Gallagher, he’ll come up with something that floors you, something brilliant. It may not be the most intricate song on the record, but ‘Lock All The Doors’ – which was written back in 1992 – perfectly recaptures the brutish, overdriven thrill of early Oasis. Just as impressive is the buoyant, soaraway melody on ‘You Know We Can’t Go Back’. It would’ve made for a better-than-decent B-side back in the day – which, given his one-time mastery of that lost art, is high praise indeed. ‘The Mexican’ is terrific fun, featuring judicious amounts of cowbell, a riff so sleazy it’d make Josh Homme blush and a horn section under orders to make it sound as close to The Rolling Stones’ ‘Bitch’ as is legally expedient.
Last year, longtime associate and occasional hype-man Mark Coyle predicted that ‘Chasing Yesterday’ would be a “seismic” release. As it turns out, that’s only three quarters true. You can guess from the title, for example, that ‘Riverman’ is going to plough a distinctly Wellerian furrow, though you have to admire Gallagher’s chutzpah in sticking a Dick Parry-style sax solo (now there’s a Liam-baiting phrase if ever we heard one) on the end of it. ‘The Right Stuff’ features even more skronking, adding a further layer of jazzy noir to a stew of psych, soul and blues that could’ve been cooked up by Primal Scream. The Johnny Marr-featuring ‘Ballad Of The Mighty I’, meanwhile, might self-plagiarise from 2011’s excellent ‘AKA… What A Life!’, but as evidenced by ‘Lock All The Doors’ – which does much the same thing with Oasis’ 1995 classic ‘Morning Glory’ – the trick is to crib from the right places, whether they’re his own songs or somebody else’s.
Which brings us back to our original question: what do we expect from Noel Gallagher? Too much, probably, like all the other ’90s Britrock titans who’ve never been adequately replaced. ‘Chasing Yesterday’ has its flaws, but they’re far outnumbered by moments where it succeeds in catching up with its titular quarry. The past will never be a foreign country to Noel Gallagher, but from this vantage point, tomorrow is looking pretty rosy.