Two years after 2015’s Chasing Yesterday, former Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher has emerged with his third solo offering with his High Flying Birds, Who Built the Moon?
As Gallagher warned in many interviews, this new effort is a departure from his usual Oasis/Beatles-esque songwriter-y influence, containing a more uplifting ethereal vibe. Who Built the Moon is layered thick with instruments, percussion, synths, and backing vocals with punchier rhythms than usual, thanks in part to producer David Holmes (yes, the same guy that wrote the killer music for the Ocean’s 11 series).
The album’s lead single “Holy Mountain” was a bit one-level and bland, knocking down some of the excitement for the rest of this release. However upon listening through, every other track delivers in a very Noel way, making “Holy Mountain” a sort of anomaly. It doesn’t quite fit.
“Fort Knox” is an incredible intense opening jam, and needs to be the opening track on the upcoming tour (if not, somebody’s messing up). “Keep on Reaching” is where the album should really continue from, as it launches into high energy thumping toms, horns, backing vocals, and Gallagher’s voice soaring over the sound bed. This one is more similar to what we would expect of Noel.
Skipping over the other two songs that most have heard on YouTube or television (“It’s a Beautiful World” and “She Taught Me How to Fly”), “Be Careful What You Wish For” is a easy-walking groove, catchy and driving… something similar in vibe to Radiohead’s “A Punch Up at a Wedding”. The female vocals and dissonant note choices in the instrumentation add to creating a really enjoyable, chill-out 5:40.
“Black and White Sunshine” is back to more traditional drums/bass/guitar/Noel vocals, and brings back some of the latter-day Oasis feeling, or the 2012 High Flying Birds.
“If Love is the Law” is grand, jangly, and heartfelt… with a sort of 70’s western feel to it. Probably the 2nd least interesting track in this set.
“The Man Who Built the Moon” is the last full track on this album (there are also two interludes that are really great, but not worth describing here), and wow. Easily one of the best songs that Noel Gallagher has put out over the years. It doesn’t tear at the heart strings or anything, but instead hits you in the face with a big molasses drum beat, dark eerie and haunting synths, deep choir backing vocals, and a very slick, attitude-y Noel sauntering his way through the melody. This track builds: big drum fills, bashing cymbals. Probably the best song here.
Bottom Line: After an initial period of nervousness over what to expect, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds delivers a quality (albeit different) record once again. The single “Holy Mountain” is out of place, and the weakest link in this chain by far. Who Built the Moon? hits heavy with the layers and beats, and is definitely a repeat-listener. I just wish there were more than 11 tracks, especially when two of them are instrumental interludes, alongside a sub-par lead single.
I was initially disappointed that there were no heart-wrenchers like “If I Had a Gun” or “The Dying of the Light”, and then I noticed the bonus track “Dead in the Water”… a live in-studio performance done in Dublin, Ireland. Needless to say, I’m not disappointed anymore.However, it’s a must-have album if you’re a fan of Noel’s work… just skip over Track 2.
Oh, and get the deluxe version. It’s worth it.
Rating: 7.5/10, 8/10 for the deluxe version
Notable Tracks: “The Man Who Built the Moon”, “Keep on Reaching”, “Dead in the Water”