Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds review anti-nostalgia set doesn’t look back in anger

Unlike his brother, Gallagher Sr mostly refuses straightforward Oasis renditions, and instead embraces electronic drones, dance-rock and saxophones

As Noel Gallagher departs the stage at the end of his UK tours first date, he tells the audience to get home safely and that hell see them soon. Probably at some shitty festival, he adds. Well be third on the bill. Fucking travesty.

Its clearly meant as a joke, but theres a certain edge to it. The last six months have been a curious period in Gallaghers career. He released Who Built the Moon?, by some considerable distance the most interesting album hes made since the mid-90s, and the sort of record hes been threatening to make ever since Oasis split up. A collaboration with dance producer, DJ and soundtrack composer David Holmes, it pushed Gallagher out of his comfort zone of mid-tempo anthems and Beatles references into more colourful and spacier territory: it touches on ambient electronica, New Orders shimmering dance-rock hybrid, easy listening, and the sonically super-saturated glam of Roy Woods Wizzard. For his trouble, hes been bested commercially by his brothers debut solo album As You Were, on which pop songwriters-for-hire were drafted into the aforementioned comfort zone: mid-tempo anthems and Beatles references abound.

Perhaps the problem is that Noel should have made Who Built the Moon? 20 years ago. If you spend decades dealing in more of the same, thats what people come to expect of you theyre bound to react coolly when you suddenly start breaking out the trombone and the French spoken-word interludes from Charlotte Marionneau (formerly of My Bloody Valentine-affiliated experimentalists Le Volume Courbe), whos also spotted at one juncture using a pair of scissors as percussion.

Outside his comfort zone Noel Gallagher. Photograph: Stefan Hoederath/Redferns

Still, better late than never, and theres something pleasingly bullish both about the sound of High Flying Birds simultaneously expansive and powerful, not least on the brass-assisted Keep on Reaching, which feels like the work of a band rather than backing musicians and about the shows implicit suggestion that his audience can very much like his new direction or lump it. While his brother comes onstage to Oasis old intro music and immediately starts clobbering them with the contents of Definitely Maybe, Gallagher Srs appearance is preceded by a lengthy passage of electronic drone, his set opens with the Screamadelica-ish near-instrumental Fort Knox and proceeds through four songs in a row from Who Built the Moon? Wonderwall and Dont Look Back in Anger aside, it steps lightly around Oasis big hits, concentrating instead on previous moments from Gallaghers solo oeuvre when he pushed more gently against his self-imposed boundaries: the sax-heavy Riverman, the house-influenced AKA What a Life!

Occasionally, when he does dip into the Oasis catalogue, it acts as an intriguing study in contrasts. Half the World Away is still fantastic, but a trudge through Little By Little serves to remind you of what youre not missing. It goes down a storm, but it feels leaden next to She Taught Me How to Flys breezy sparkle or the propulsive honk of Holy Mountain. Theres the sense of a man slogging away trying to recapture the inspiration that propelled Oasis to the top in the first place, versus the sound of man who seems genuinely inspired once more, powered by something other than nostalgia for Oasis mid-90s moment in the sun.

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Marissa SafontNoel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds review anti-nostalgia set doesn’t look back in anger

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