Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: Who Built the Moon? Review
Words by Bob Melling
Well, the perpetual battle of the Gallaghers continues to grow in intensity, as for the first time since their Oasis days, the brothers have released albums within just weeks of each other. This time it was Noel’s turn to step into the ring and fire a right-hook at brother Liam’s ‘Wall of Glass’. Whilst camp Liam have merely remained ‘as they were’ back in the 90s, Noel has taken heed of the lessons of the past and evolved into a much more experimental, all-embracing artist. This 3rd album from Noel’s High Flying Birds has been lauded by many, as one of his best and it’s hard to disagree with such a sentiment. Through this exquisite composition of pieces, the listener is taken on a rollercoaster oozing with both emotion and productional dexterity. Noel and his team have created an intricate narrative in this 48-minute-long album, ranging from delicate, ambient tracks to glam-rock, sing-along anthems. No ground goes uncovered and this is testament to producer David Holmes, particularly in the captivating instrumental fragments.
The album’s opener, ‘Fort Knox’, symbolises much of Noel’s intent as a sort of newly emerging avant-garde composer. In this punchy crowd-rouser, we are immediately enshrouded by effects, effects and more effects. An afrobeat choir, a fire alarm and cello drones to name a few. ‘Fort Knox’ sets the tone for the psychedelic overtones that resonate throughout the entire album. Next up, we have the emergence of the Bowie-esque, glam-rock ‘Holy Mountain’, a song Noel himself regards as one of his favourite pieces he has ever written during his illustrious career. Noel’s monotone vocals in this sing-along hit are very much reminiscent of something The Vaccines would’ve produced back in 2011. Yet, Justin Young aside, the excitable and lively ‘Holy Mountain’ has the sort of simple melody you’ll be singing around the house in just a couple of listens. The jubilant tin whistle in particular, resonates in the head for days. Oh, and how could we forget the legendary multi-instrumentalist featured in the track… Mr. Paul Weller. On an instrumental level, ‘Who Built the Moon?’ really is on another planet.
‘Keep On Reaching’ is more of a throwback to Bird’s albums of old. As a song it’s nothing special or memorable. It just sort of crescendos into a semi-lively state, before returning in a matter of seconds, to a lethargic trot. With this one, we are just left reaching for a bit more oomph.
By the time we reach track 6, Noel decides to inject a bit of ambience into proceedings. ‘It’s a Beautiful World’ is basically a cool, psychedelic Elbow track with a French middle-eight; is there anything Noel can’t do? And the notion of ambience is followed through with the cliché ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’. By now, it appears Noel has taken a small dose of LSD and been listening heavily to The Beatles… So much so, that Noel has partaken in an act of plagiarism… Surprise, surprise. The song is almost a replica of The Beatles’ ’69 hit ‘Come Together’. Where’s your reference list, Noel?
In the final few furlongs of the album, Noel bookends two of my personal favourites in between two really well executed instrumental sections. Noel swiftly gallops through the moody ‘Interlude’ and lands smoothly in the Wild West. ‘If Love is the Law’ combines a simple, yet effective chord progression with a dusting of subtle effects. The track even features a Dylan-esque, uplifting harmonica solo.
The Bird’s couldn’t have finished the album in a better way. ‘The Man Who Built the Moon’ is a haunting, emotion-driven track roaring with sheer intensity…. It’s almost like you’re stepping straight into Skyfall. Perhaps Noel has ambitions of replacing Daniel Craig. Who knows. All we know is that once again it really emphasises the album’s diverse array of sounds.
You’d be foolish to overlook the bonus track that didn’t make the cut. It’s failure to find its way into Noel’s narrative really emphasises his focus upon the experimental side of the musical sphere. Unplugged and raw, ‘Dead in the Water’ shows Noel in his true form, as a solo strummer. It’s just Noel, the guitar and the mic. It’s very much reminiscent of some of Oasis’ best B-sides and the fact that such a great track has missed out, proves a fundamental point. Noel and his High Flying Birds have attempted to soar to new heights with this album and their experimentalism has paid dividends. This album stands head and shoulders above Noel’s previous offerings to date.