Free from the Britpop constraints of Oasis, Noel Gallagher’s debut record with the High Flying Birds allowed the Mancunian rocker to experiment with a different style. An impressive record, it remains perhaps one of the most underrated albums on the 2010s alternative scene. Alex Duke revisits the album on its 10th anniversary.
Back before the days of music streaming, my parents bought me a CD as a Christmas present in 2011.
I’d been yearning for Noel Gallagher’s first individual record since its release in 2011. I was a huge fan of his work with Oasis, and the teaser singles released in the build up to this album, such as AKA... What A Life! and Dream On were extremely compelling. So, as I opened a CD-shaped gift under the tree (a fake one, I’m desperately allergic to real Christmas trees, very sad I know), you could imagine my display when I saw a Michael Buble record. Turns out, it was a Christmas joke. Buble was merely a front for the real Noel Gallagher CD inside, and I had my ideal present.
Digression aside, the album summed up a lot of my music as I grew up in the early 2010s. It was the recipient of a lot of media attention, as it was Gallagher’s first foray back into music following his acrimonious departure from Oasis in 2009. The High Flying Birds allowed Gallagher something that he didn’t have in Oasis – full creative autonomy. Whilst incredibly prominent in the 90s Britpop five piece, there was always a power struggle between himself and his younger brother Liam. We saw hints of Noel’s individual brilliance through Oasis – The Importance of Being Idle and Half The World Away were early indications of what we might see in Noel’s individual work.
"The record flirted with the idea of a modern concept album: with many of the songs being interlinked with each other and telling a broader, interesting story"
So what made his debut so impressive? There are a number of contributing factors. The record flirted with the idea of a modern concept album: with many of the songs being interlinked with each other and telling a broader, interesting story. The music videos for If I had A Gun..., The Death of You and Me and AKA... What A Life! all follow the same story. The latter’s music video features the pseudo-intellectual ramblings of Russell Brand, but whilst that’s obnoxious to listen to in real life, it fits well into the slightly unnerving tone of the videos.
Furthermore, it is an album where every track provides something interesting and feels unique. The fact that Gallagher created such an intriguing array of songs in a fairly short amount of time is reflective of his outstanding ability as an artist. Picking the best song on the album is like picking the cutest dog at Crufts, it is virtually impossible. The thrashing piano riff in AKA... What A Life! gives the track a thumping underbelly, and it’s enhanced by Gallagher’s superb vocals and a whimsical guitar interlude in the middle. Everybody’s On The Run again provides a perfect example of Gallagher’s sheer vocal power with a hair-raising chorus. The acoustic guitar work on AKA... Broken Arrow is melodic and delicate and the blues-like undertones of Stranded On The Wrong Beach reflect Gallagher’s innate ability to switch between different styles of music effortlessly.
Throughout the album, Gallagher sings and plays with a subtle precision that few artists can achieve. Every song appears to sound so natural, and Gallagher’s style of singing fits perfectly with the softer, folk-like influences in the album’s genre. I’ve always been a defender of the benefits of Oasis’s breakup. Whilst it was a shame to see such an iconic band disintegrate, it presented opportunities for both Noel and Liam to express their individual artistry.
"Despite his fame, I still strongly believe that Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds remain one of Britain’s most underrated bands, and his self-titled debut, poignant, whimsical and intricately brilliant, reaffirms my belief"
The High Flying Birds’s self-titled debut laid the groundwork for more success in the 2010s. This album’s successor, Chasing Yesterday, continued their alternative-acoustic style successfully, whilst Who Built The Moon represented a gargantuan shift into neo-psychedelia for Gallagher and his band. Despite his fame, I still strongly believe that Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds remain one of Britain’s most underrated bands, and his self-titled debut, poignant, whimsical and intricately brilliant, reaffirms my belief.
Written by: Alex Duke
Edited by: Gemma Cockrell
In-article video courtesy of Noel Gallagher via YouTube.