Album Review: "Who Built the Moon?" by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

Album Review: "Who Built the Moon?" by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

While his brother retreated to more familiar confines to great acclaim and success, Noel Gallagher decided to push the envelope. Perhaps he felt that, after a lackluster (and conventional) sophomore effort, he had nowhere else to go and needed to experiment. Perhaps he knew what Liam was going to do and decided to write an eclectic collection of dance songs and psychedelic tunes to remind everyone who was the real talent in the family. Perhaps he went to the barber one day and decided he loved the sounds of scissors shearing and wanted to build an album around it. 

Either way, Noel Gallagher deserves credit for his willingness to experiment. But was he successful?

"Urban Hymns" Turns 20.

"Urban Hymns" Turns 20.

I was going to write a review of The Verve's 20th anniversary reissue of its classic album, "Urban Hymns," but what's the point? I love the album and it's still one of my favorites. In fact, I make it a point to listen it all the way through at least a few times a year. I love this album so much that it's almost impossible for me to be objective about it.  It would be like trying to review "The Godfather." 

So I figured I'd write this instead. 

Buckingham Mac

Who needs Stevie Nicks? 

Apparently, the plan for Fleetwood Mac had been to go on tour with a returning Christine McVie, make a truckload of money, record a new album, go on a retirement tour, and make even more money so that the members music's longest-running soap opera would never have to work together again if they wished. Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie did their part by writing songs and taking part in recording sessions with Mick Fleetwood and John McVie in preparation for what would have been Fleetwood Mac's first studio album since 2003's "Say You Will."

Stevie Nicks, however, decided to go her own way (sorry). 

Opting to go on a solo tour instead of joining her cohorts in the studio, Stevie Nicks put her bandmates in a position where they could either wait for her or go ahead and release their work under a different name. Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie opted for the latter, and the result is an enjoyable album that is light years better than "Say You Will." 

Given his tumultuous and turbulent decades-old relationship with Stevie, it's easy to overlook that, when it comes to making music, his soulmate within Fleetwood Mac has always been Christine. Some of Fleetwood Mac's best songs were co-written by the two of them ("World Turning," "Think About Me") or features the two singing lead together ("Hold Me," "Don't Stop"). Buckingham, pretty much, admits this. In a mini-documentary chronicling the making of "Lindsay Buckingham/Christine McVie," Buckingham calls McVie a "kindred spirit" while gushing over her songwriting skills and musicianship. 

The natural and obvious musical chemistry between the two of them comes through on the album. Perhaps it helps that they don't have the kind of emotional baggage that comes from a torrid affair and bad breakup (at least, not that we know of). As such, Buckingham and McVie sound like they're having fun - a quality that rarely applies to Fleetwood Mac albums. Indeed, it seems as if releasing the album as a duo instead of as Fleetwood Mac has given them freedom to experiment. "Think About You," is a piece of pure bubblegum pop that would stick out like a sore thumb on a Mac album. "Sleeping Around the Corner" features a strange vocal delivery from Buckingham that wouldn't sound out of place on one of his solo albums. 

Almost every song on the album is good. "Love is Here to Stay" is a beautiful song built around Buckingham's still transcendent guitar playing. "Red Sun" is a catchy number from McVie that utilizes another well-known Fleetwood Mac trope - the Buckingham outtro guitar solo. The songs aren't all winners, of course. "Too Far Gone," for instance, is over-produced and contains a superfluous Mick Fleetwood drum riff tacked on at the end of the chorus - seemingly to justify having him involved with the project.

In any event, "Lindsay Buckingham / Christine McVie" is an excellent album that only gets better with each listen. It won't make them the kind of money that a proper Fleetwood Mac album and tour would, but it shows that there is life without Stevie. 

Black Days

 Chris Cornell, 1964-2017 (image by  Andreas Eldh )

Chris Cornell, 1964-2017 (image by Andreas Eldh)

Perhaps the biggest tragedy regarding Chris Cornell's reported suicide was that it seemed so unexpected. 

Sure, the vocal virtuoso and revered frontman of Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog had struggled with depression and substance abuse for years. Still, he seemed like he had survived the worst of it and was in a good place in both his professional and personal life. Of course, people that have suffered from either depression or substance abuse know that both conditions are a lifelong struggle and that, just because you're up one minute doesn't mean that it can't all come crashing down the next. Unfortunately for Cornell, it seemed like the struggle was much tougher than anyone realized. 

We may never know why he died the way that he did. In the meantime, we have his extensive catalog of fantastic songs to remember him by. I was never a big fan of Soundgarden. Their music seemed overly complex and inaccessible - they were like a progressive rock group masquerading as a grunge band with their unconventional time signatures and Cornell's seeming determination to show off his four-octave range as much as possible). I enjoyed Audioslave more, mainly because Cornell seemed willing to dial back his vocal histrionics a bit, allowing his emotive voice to convey his feelings. No one could sing a sad song and make you feel every bit of his pain than Cornell, and his voice sounds even more haunting now that he's gone. On "Like a Stone," for instance, Audioslave bassist Tim Commerford thought Cornell had written a love song until Cornell told him, matter-of-factly, that it was about waiting to die. Maybe we should have something was up, then. 

His solo stuff could be hit or miss, although there were some gems, particularly "Seasons," "Can't Change Me," "You Know My Name," and "The Promise." Perhaps, it's not a coincidence that many of his best solo songs were used in movies. His evocative and versatile voice was perfect for the silver screen and he could be as bombastic, sweeping or restrained as necessary. 

Thanks for the memories, Chris. At least your black days are a thing of the past, now.