Album Review: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Who Built the Moon?

I have to confess, I’m not the biggest Oasis fan. I like their first two albums Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? for what they are, but I’ve always found Oasis the least inspired of the Britpop big four. Despite this, I do enjoy Noel Gallagher’s solo work under the High Flying Birds moniker. Since leaving Oasis, the eldest Gallagher’s approach to songwriting has matured into something quite agreeable. Unfortunately, the music itself hasn’t developed far beyond Gallagher typical ’60s tinged alt-rock. A potentially radical space rock project with experimental electronica duo Amorphous Androgynous was in development, but only three songs from it saw the light of day. Instead, it looked like Gallagher was staying in his conservative comfort zone. That is until he released Who Built the Moon

Now, despite what some overreactive YouTube commenters might have you think, Noel Gallagher’s third High Flying Birds album isn’t his Metal Machine Music. If you’ve listened to anything Blur released since 1997 you will have already heard more experimental music from a former Britpop outfit. Noel himself has described the album as just him in “more colourful clothes”, which is pretty accurate. The melodies and chords are very familiar and the lyrics are still Noel’s trademark mix of love, hope and hollow metaphors. However, it’s all given a lively new paint job, thanks to David Holmes’ creative production, the happiest lyrics of Noel’s career and a healthy appreciation of glam, psych and dance rock. By Noel’s standards (and especially compared to brother Liam’s dull solo album As You Were) it’s a refreshing change of pace.

“…Nothing here is particularly innovative, even compared to other artists from the Britpop era. However, it’s exciting to hear Noel Gallagher’s take on something different and – for the most part – Who Built the Moon? delivers.”

Much of the album’s sound recalls Oasis’ more interesting contemporaries. Fort Knox kicks things off in much the same way F***in’ in the Bushes opened Oasis’ own 2000 album Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. However, the processed drum beat and repetitive lyrics also evoke Kill All Hippies, the epic opener to Primal Scream’s XTRMNTR from the same year. Keep on Reaching incorporates a gospel sound that echoes Blur’s Tender or Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, although it’s upbeat tone is most similar to Primal Scream’s Movin’ On UpShe Taught Me How to Fly features an energetic disco beat and New Order-esque guitars, although they could do with being higher in the mix. Most fascinating are the intense, cascading strings on The Man Who Built the Moon, reminiscent of Radiohead‘s outstanding (and criminally rejected) theme for the 2015 James Bond film Spectre.

Some influences hail from further back in time. Holy Mountain is a riotous glam rock romp bolstered by an obscure earworm of a whistle sample from 1968. Be Careful What You Wish For‘s bassline couldn’t sound more like The Beatles‘ Come Together without risking a lawsuit, but the bluesy vocals and psychedelic guitar solo ensure it’s different enough. Black & White Sunshine is a rather generic imitation of Byrds-y jangle pop. It benefits from a rawer post-chorus and trippy strings, but overall it’s the least substantial track here. However, the joyously loose If Love is the Law revives the album with a euphoric harmonica solo from Johnny Marr. The two instrumentals bearing the Wednesday subtitle Interlude and End Credits pleasantly break things up with lush, ethereal psychedelia. However, the album’s most out-there moment is easily It’s a Beautiful World‘s apocalyptic French spoken word middle eight.

The digital version of Who Built the Moon? features a bonus track called Dead in the Water. It’s gorgeously written and performed, but its arrangement is incredibly sparse. In fact, it perfectly contrasts Gallagher’s typical, restrained style with the more ambitious ideas he attempts on the rest of the album. As I said before, nothing here is particularly innovative, even compared to other artists from the Britpop era. However, it’s exciting to hear Noel Gallagher’s take on something different and – for the most part – Who Built the Moon? delivers.