Sunday, June 20, 2021

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds look ahead in anticipation with the release of their greatest hits album ‘Back The Way We Came: Vol 1'

Noel Gallagher, the bushy-browed Mancunian often referred to as the Chief, has been providing era-defining anthems since the mid-'90s (as well as tabloid news fodder). 

As the de facto leader of Oasis, a rock band that spoke for a British generation, it seems the challenge these days is for Gallagher not to rest on his rock n’ roll laurels. How can a songwriter from a band with such a significant reputation and emotional resonance in popular culture, develop their art without being pigeonholed by their past?

 How can you avoid facing the sun and casting no shadow? Gallagher’s new double greatest hits album with his band the High Flying Birds, ‘Back The Way We Came: Vol 1’, presents a musician who truly marches to the beat of his own drum, popular consensus be damned.

The album opens with ‘Everybody’s On The Run’, a great staple of Noel-Rock with a catchy chorus that would fit neatly on any latter-day Oasis album. This leads nicely into ‘The Death Of You and Me’, another solo triumph that mixes Kinks-y buoyancy with a similar 60s pop vibe as ‘The Importance of Being Idle’. A welcome change of pace and style in ‘AKA…What A Life!’ is provided by an impressive piano riff that wouldn't be amiss in a Eurodance song played in a 90s nightclub (dance music appears to be ignored as an influence on Gallagher’s songwriting, despite the fact he once proclaimed that a compilation of the Hacienda’s best tracks was one of his favourite albums). 

The second disc presents a departure from the standard rock fare that was released on the first two High Flying Birds albums. Opening with ‘Black Star Dancing’, a funk/disco-influenced track that sounds like it has been fermenting in Nile Rodgers' basement, offering us a vastly different side of Gallagher that we don't often see. Somewhat controversial to die-hard Oasis fans, songs like ‘Blue Moon Rising’ and ‘This Is The Place’ seem to shun the myopic scope of rock n’ roll stars. ‘Holy Mountain’, however, sounds like a coked-up Plastic Bertrand and includes a prominent tin whistle - an instrument that’s prominence is severely lacking in modern music.     

The two new tracks on the album, ‘We’re On Our Way Now’ and ‘Flying On The Ground’ reveal Gallagher’s penchant for catchy melodies (the former with acoustic fragility, the latter with bouncy, soulful charm). The third disc, ostensibly a selection of remixes and rethinks, makes the album seem somewhat bloated and self-indulgent, especially with an unnecessary ten-minute remix of ‘Black Star Dancing’. Even here though, acoustic versions of otherwise overproduced songs like ‘The Dying of The Light’ bring the beauty of the compositions to the fore.   

It speaks volumes that Gallagher has released an album of this length at this stage in his solo career. He is clearly proud of his recent work, presenting a compilation album equal in duration to some of Oasis’s recent remastered/greatest hits offerings. 

The track selection and sequencing reveal the evolution of the band, as well as the artistic development of the songwriter. While aptly titled ‘Back The Way We Came’ it is clear that Gallagher's eyes are firmly fixed on the horizon.

Josh Lambie

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