Saturday, December 10, 2011

Album Reviews: Beady Eye and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

We all know what it looks like when a major band dismantles--sometimes messy press, always sense of loss. But what does it sound like? The 2009 breakup of Oasis led to two acts that released albums this year, each fronted by one of the Gallagher brothers.

Three-fourths of Oasis formed Beady Eye, comprised of its vocalist (Liam Gallagher), guitarist (Gem Archer), bassist (Andy Bell) and drummer (Chris Sharrock, who joined Oasis for their Dig Out Your Soul tour). The last fourth, its lead guitarist and songwriter (Noel Gallagher), formed Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds with support from other musicians.

As splits go, this is an interesting one. Beady Eye has most of the band's tools, but High Flying Birds has its songs. As such, I'd expect Beady Eye to have inherited Oasis' sound and High Flying Birds its soul, and in listening to these two albums, I think that holds true.

Of the two, Different Gear, Still Speeding is bolder and more upbeat with a definite retro feel. Jacked up "Four Letter Word" and mellower, twangy "Millionaire" both sound like like the '70s, while "The Roller" proves Beady Eye has inherited Oasis's love of The Beatles. As does "Beatles and Stones," quite literally, which has a kicky rhythm a nice guitar-driven, piano-kissed tune. "For Anyone" is a mellower '60s-flavored love song, while "Bring the Light" reaches even further back to early '50s and really pushes up the energy. I can't recall an Oasis tune that was ever this joyous.

Liam begin writing songs for Standing on the Shoulder of Giants and was responsible for writing later singles "Songbird" and "I'm Outta Time," both of which had definite retro flavor. While he lacks his brother's head for lyrics, he does come up with some good ones, like this zinger on the moodier "Wind Up Dream" ("If tonight is all we have, then make the bed with sheets of glass").

The album sags a little in the middle. "Kill for a Dream" has the ingredients to be a killer rock ballad, but feels undercooked, losing steam when its hits the chorus instead of kicking into higher gear. "Standing on the Edge of the Noise" isn't very interesting. "Wigwam" is a little too tie-dyed for my taste.

But then things pick up toward the end. "Three Ring Circus" is classic Oasis, which is fine, but the last two tracks are among the album's best. "The Beat Goes On" updates a Beatles in ballad mode sound as well as any Oasis song has with a rich production layered with horns and piano. But they save the best for last in "Morning Son," a touching guitar ballad that Liam clearly penned about him and his big brother Noel ("You go your way, and I'll go mine"). The first time the strings break through at about 2:35 is quite good.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds is a more elegant affair and, although the energy of Beady Eye is fun, the superior songcraft on Birds makes it the better album, even if it does basically nothing to distance Noel from the sound of his former band. It's apparent right from the start with the slow build to grandeur of "Everybody's on the Run," a perfect opening track. "Dream On" is simpler and instantly recognizable as the kind of song Oasis would have released as a single (something akin to "Lyla" but with horns). Really easy to get into and sing along with--in short, a great pop song.

"If I Had a Gun...," the strongest of the album's strong opening trio, is a ballad, also along the lines of what we've heard before from Oasis (I'd note "I'm Outta Time," except Liam wrote that one). Its electric guitar production, touched here and there with a slight country twang, grounds its lovelorn lyrics ("If I had a gun, I'd shoot a hole into the sun, and love would burn this city down for you").

"The Death of You and Me" was the album's first single, and although a lot of people really like it, it's actually a low point for me. After the richness of production on the first three tracks, its simpler sound feels a bit lacking. "(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine" sounds exactly like Oasis, since, well, it really is an Oasis song that, along with "Stop the Clocks," has existed in demo form for years (Oasis's 2006 retrospective was even titled "Stop the Clocks," although curiously the song was left off the setlist).

If people still bought vinyl albums, this one would work great, since "Record Machine" being the perfect soft ending to Side A and "AKA...What a Life!" the propulsive opening to Side B. It's as upbeat as this album gets and it's another definite highlight with a muscular piano and guitar melody. I'm not sure what the connection is supposed to be between it and "AKA...Broken Arrow" but there must be some reason for that common "AKA." It sounds a lot like Dig Out Your Soul's "Falling Down." "Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks" shuffles along nicely with prominent bass (think "The Importance of Being Idle" with a little less staccato).

Despite apparently different vibe on these albums, neither strays too far from what made Oasis great and its good that both succeed, particularly High Flying Birds. Dump the tracks from these two albums together in a playlist with tracks from Dig Out Your Soul and I'd doubt you'd really notice much difference.

Beady Eye - Different Gear, Still Speeding (3.5/5). Best: The Morning Son, The Beat Goes On, Bring the Light, Beatles and Stones.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (4/5). Best: If I Had a Gun..., AKA...What a Life!, Dream On, Everybody's on the Run, Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks, Stop the Clocks


Chris B. said...

Nicely written review.

Marco Guido Nelson Zanella said...

out of reality, as Noel received 21 negative reviews and Beady Eye didn't.

ww_adh said...

Not at all out of reality. Metacritic has High Flying Birds with a score of 68 and Different Gear, Still Speeding with a 65. On year end critics lists, Noel Gallagher scored higher than Beady Eye for Mojo, NME, and Q magazine. And "21 negative reviews?" What a made up statistic.