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Noel Gallagher is back — but not as you know him.
“I played The Right Stuff to a mate of mine,” says Gallagher, mentioning one of the most out-there tracks on an already out-there album. “And he said: Stuff is space jazz. We used to take the piss out of space jazz in Oasis. When
people told us we weren’t adventurous we would say, ‘what do you want, space jazz?’ And now I’ve made a track that is real, actual, spaced-out jazz. And you know what? It’s great.”
There are also saxophones.
“We made a demo of Riverman and we knew it was amazing,” says Gallagher, on the beautiful opening song of the album. “And then I was listening to [sax-laden one-hit wonder from 1974] Pinball by Brian Protheroe and thought: Shall I? Shall I actually get a saxophone player? And what if I get him to play not one but two solos? I know I’m going to be accused of sax crimes. I'm guilty of saxual harassment. But fuck it. This is not Oasis. There’s nobody to tell me not to do it. And when you listen to that saxophone, please, don’t think about the guy from Spandau Ballet. Think about a dude from New Orleans in 1963, smacked out of his head and incredibly cool, because it’s time to reclaim the saxophone."
Gallagher thinks Riverman might be the best song he has ever written. He’s pretty sure it’s the best-sounding song he’s ever made. And he knows it’s the best-produced song he has ever been involved with.
(He produced it, by the way.)
Just as Gallagher could only have written late 20th century hymns like Rock ’n’ Roll Star and Live Forever as a young man on the cusp of a great adventure, so he could only have written Chasing Yesterday now. There are anthems of
the kind Gallagher does so well, but moments of quiet reflection too. The album is musically far-reaching and lyrically questioning without ever taking itself too seriously. It's a rock'n'roll classic that’s big enough to handle a bit of
The album follows the success of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, which was a shock to nobody more than Noel Gallagher, and which set his life off on an unexpected, post-Oasis direction. “I wasn't ready for the positive reaction
from the album and the solo gigs,” he says. “At first I thought I’d just about tolerate being a centre-stage singer every night but I really enjoyed it, probably because neither I nor the audience had any expectations and just went with it. I was amazed that it got to an arena level so quick.”
That led to a fifteen-month tour, a bout of glandular fever, and an urge to move on to the next project as soon as possible. “When the Oasis tours came to an end it was always great to get away from the bullshit and chaos and take a year off, but this time I got bored extremely quickly. I have no idea what I was doing from one day to the next. I watched telly, went to the shops, and thought about getting back into the studio.”
With his former producer Dave Sardy otherwise occupied, Gallagher was in the position of having to oversee the album himself. It was a challenge that proved, though terrifying, ultimately rewarding, with Gallagher putting the sessions together with the help of Paul Stacey, who engineered and played bass and guitar on the record, and Stacey’s brother Jeremy on drums.
Was becoming a producer for the first time a rewarding experience?
“No, it was a major pain in the arse. It’s not that I’ve ever had people telling me what to write or what direction to go in, but managing sessions from one end of the week to the other proved extremely difficult. I’m not one for taking notes, whereas producers have systems to know how to book session musicians and so on. I had all these people looking at me and saying: ‘right, what are we doing today?’ I was making the whole thing up as I went along.”
With no producer to bend and shape him into any one direction, Noel Gallagher let the High Flying Birds take flight. There’s In The Heat Of The Moment, an hypnotic track about nothing in particular, but inspired by a documentary in which an astronaut said that going into space for the first time feels like touching the face of God. “If that’s not an opening line for a song I don’t know what is, but you can’t write a song about an astronaut," says Gallagher of In The Heat Of The Moment. "That’s ludicrous. Especially after Jeremy gave it a disco beat.”
The Girl With X-Ray Eyes is more personal, an ode to Gallagher’s wife with a nod to David Bowie’s Starman. “If most people write a song and someone tells them it sounds a bit like David Bowie, they’ll try and move away from that
and make it more like The Libertines or something. If someone says that to me I’ll make it sound even more like David Bowie, to the point where Bowie might actually sue me…and then back it off a bit. As for the words, they’re
about the kind of girl who sees through your bullshit. We all know them. They’re the ones we end up getting married to.”
There is a maturing of the epic, heart-swelling Oasis sound on You Know We Can’t Go Back, The Dying Of The Light and Lock All The Doors, the last one a song that has taken Gallagher 23 years to write. He gave a verse of an early
draft of the song to the Chemical Brothers for their 1996 number one hit Setting Sun, thinking he would complete it soon afterwards, but it never came together. Then in 2013 he was on his way back from his local Tesco Metro
when he had a songwriter’s equivalent of a Damascene revelation.
“It’s always like that: songs fall out of the sky in a moment of inspiration and you have to be ready for it," says Gallagher, "and if that moment arrives whenyou’re coming out of Tesco Metro on a Sunday after City have just drawn oneall with Everton, that’s how it goes. I found the missing melody there and then.” Lock All The Doors gives us the clearest idea of what Oasis would sound like today, were they still with us.
While The Song Remains The Same is a reflection on the Manchester Gallagher grew up in, one that now exists only in the imagination. The Stonesy, riff-heavy The Mexican has its roots in a shelved project Gallagher worked on with psychedelic production duo the Amorphous Androgynous, while Ballad Of The Mighty I, the album’s emotional closer, gets its disco guitar sound courtesy of Johnny Marr, still Gallagher’s great guitar hero.
“I tried to get him to play on the last album but it never happened,” says Gallagher. “So when I put this track together and knew he would be perfect for it I called him and asked if I could send him the rough mix. He said: ‘No, I
don’t want to hear it. I’m just going to react to it on the day.’ He didn’t even want any pointers. Well, that was brave of him. He just arrived with two guitars and a bag of effects pedals. And I have to say, he’s unbelievable. He’s way up
there, on another level to the rest of us. The result is a burst of energy that helped make Ballad Of The Mighty I one of the best songs I’ve ever written.”
Ballad Of The Mighty I completes Chasing Yesterday, an album that is, if not exactly Noel Gallagher’s Jazz Odyssey, then certainly his galactic ramble. For every Oasis-styled monster there’s a free-flowing groover, for every moment
of lyrical profundity there’s a nugget of throwaway absurdity. It’s the sound of Noel Gallagher finding his freedom.