Album Reviews | Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday (2015)

Definitely MaybeI had always known that of Oasis‘ two Gallagher brothers, it was guitarist Noel, and not singer Liam, who was ultimately responsible for their success as the band’s songwriter during their mid-90’s Britpop peak, but I had no idea just how much Noel had to offer until I reviewed last year’s deluxe reissues of 1994‘s Definitely Maybe and 1995‘s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? Each reissue provides two discs rounding up the substantial wealth of B-sides and previously unheard rarities, and I was struck when poring over them by how Oasis was unquestionably Noel’s band. He wrote all the songs, usually recorded the demos with his own vocals, and then replaced them with Liam’s vocals during the tracking process since he was such a distinctive singer whose cocky swagger informed much of the band’s ultimate character when it came to how they were presented. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find that Liam’s role in Oasis was just that: surface. If Oasis was a cake, Liam was the icing — and only the icing.

(What's the Story) Morning GloryThe 2014 Oasis reissue series was dubbed the “Chasing the Sun” campaign (named after the line in Definitely Maybe‘s “Slide Away”), and 2015 saw the release of Chasing Yesterday, the second solo album from Noel Gallagher (credited to Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds so that his collaborators feel included, or something like that). Naming aside, it’s nearly impossible not to view Chasing Yesterday as a reflection on and continuation of Oasis’ classic period — all of the songs on the new record would fit on (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, or at least an alternate version of it where Noel sings every song instead of just “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” It’s telling that Noel decided to take a break from the reissue campaign after the band’s first two albums — the original announcement a year ago said Oasis’ third album, 1997‘s Be Here Now, would be reissued as well — so he could put together and release Chasing Yesterday instead. It’s likely that going over that glorious period in the band’s history got his creative juices flowing again.

Cigarettes and AlcoholAs with those first couple Oasis albums, there are plagiarisms and rip-offs abound on Chasing Yesterday, with Gallagher sometimes even borrowing from his own songs, but that’s part of the charm and always has been. Plus, when Gallagher internalizes others’ work and spits it back out it always has his signature on it — even when Oasis ripped off T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” on Definitely Maybe with “Cigarettes and Alcohol,” it was still done with enough attitude that it was hard to care. A similarly glam track on Chasing Yesterday is “The Mexican,” an awesome rocker that sounds like it was lifted straight from ’70s rock. Just about everything here is fantastic, with the opening “Riverman” (which, incidentally, begins with the opening line from the Beatles‘ “Something”) and the “Wonderwall” soundalike “The Dying of the Light” (hands down, my favorite song of 2015 so far, by the way) being the best of the bunch.

Be Here NowChasing Yesterday curiously peters out a little toward the end, though, with the final two tracks not quite measuring up to the first eight. (Cool to see Gallagher brought in Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to play guitar on the “Columbia”-like closer “Ballad of the Mighty I” though.) Overall, this is a more measured effort than those who listened to Oasis’ ’90s output may come to expect from Gallagher, but he’s an insanely talented and accomplished craftsman at this point, and this is the first time in a while he’s written a set of songs that are comparable to what Oasis produced during its wild and crazy heyday that eventually flamed out with Be Here Now. The amps may no longer be cranked up to 11, but by focusing on and reliving these glory years through the Chasing the Sun reissue campaign, Gallagher’s own output has blossomed in the present — Chasing Yesterday is one of the best contemporary rock albums to see the light of day in a long time.

Summary
A work of stunning craft, Chasing Yesterday is Noel Gallagher's best album since leaving Oasis and belongs in the same league as his former band's most acclaimed records.
Good
  • Extraordinary craftsmanship; this is as close to "music magic" as anything since the Britpop era
  • Recalls Oasis' heyday while sounding completely contemporary and timeless at the same time
  • Interesting production choices; it's hard to imagine Gallagher utilizing saxophones twenty years ago
Bad
  • Runs out of steam a little toward the end; the last two tracks are pretty good but keep the album from being a masterpiece
  • Some dynamic range compression
9.5
Amazing

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