Album Review: "Chasing Yesterday" by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

 I had high hopes for this record. History tells me I shouldn't have. (image via  Wikimedia Commons )

I had high hopes for this record. History tells me I shouldn't have. (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Noel Gallagher's career has been a case study in diminishing returns.

During his Oasis tenure, Gallagher started with a bang and produced "Definitely Maybe," one of the seminal albums of the 90s, as well as the record that, arguably, kicked off the Britpop craze. Oasis's second album, "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" was a good record that didn't receive as much acclaim, but significantly outsold its predecessor based largely on the strength of its dynamite lead single. From there, Oasis records steadily declined in quality as Noel, the band's primary creative force, seemed to run out of ideas (his drug use didn't help matters). He was bored by Oasis, was sick of fighting with his kid brother and seemed determined to prove he could thrive without Liam preening and scowling next to him.

His debut solo effort, 2011's "Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds," was an outstanding album that was both a critical and commercial smash. The album was one of the best of 2011 and proved that Noel Gallagher could be a compelling front-man on his own. The album also underlined just how important he had been to Oasis. The remnants of the band he left formed Beady Eye, and the less said about that band, the better.

The album also raised expectations for his follow up, "Chasing Yesterday," which was released on March 3. Based on his history, we probably should have known that his follow-up would be, at best, slightly worse than his outstanding debut.

Indeed, "Chasing Yesterday," is an inferior record compared to Gallagher's 2011 solo debut. None of the songs are as good or memorable as the ones from his previous record. I listened to the album four times and I found the songs to be acceptable, at best, and boring, at worst. It's pure music-by-the-numbers and formulaic Noel Gallagher only without the inspiration of his solo debut. Gallagher had a lot to prove with his first album. He was determined to prove his viability as a solo act as well as demonstrate his superiority to Beady Eye (which released its debut the same year as Noel). He rose to the occasion then; now he's taking his victory lap. 

As the title implies, the album sees Gallagher revisit some of his past glories. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with that and Gallagher has made a career out of imitating artists that he admires. When it's done well, you get wonderful songs like "Wonderwall," "Don't Look Back in Anger" and "Shakermaker" (among others). Opening track, "Riverman," contains an acoustic riff that evokes "Wonderwall," while "Lock All The Doors," which Noel first started writing in 1992, is "Morning Glory's" red-headed stepchild. "You Know We Can't Go Back" sounds a lot like "Rock 'N Roll Star" - and we can all feel free to speculate on the significance of this resemblance, at least in regards to an Oasis reunion.

His former band isn't the only one Gallagher lovingly imitates. "Riverman" also contains a Pink Floyd-esque saxophone break in the middle of the song that seems tacked on to make the song more sound more interesting than it otherwise would be. Oasis was never known for its love of Led Zeppelin, but here's Gallagher using a "Stairway to Heaven"-style chord progression for "The Girl with X-Ray Eyes." On "While the Song Remains the Same," Gallagher lifts the title of one of Zeppelin's most famous songs, however the song itself utilizes an organ riff that sounds similar to another famous Zeppelin song: "No Quarter."

Again, there's nothing wrong with Gallagher's style of imitation-as-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery. After all, music is all about being inspired by and even imitating artists from the past. Gallagher, who refers to himself as a "fan who writes music," does this very well and the best moments on "Chasing Yesterday" involving him paying homage to his heroes or to his past. Standout track "Ballad of the Mighty I" combines both as guitarist Johnny Marr lays down one of his trademark riffs while the song itself sounds like a sequel to one of the best tracks from Gallagher's debut record: "AKA... What a Life!" The song is much better than lead single "In the Heat of the Moment," but the latter's catchy "na-na-na-na-nahhhh-nahh" chorus is probably why it came out first.

Meanwhile, the most original song on the album is from Gallagher's now-shelved recording sessions with British production duo Amorphous Androgynous. Originally slated to be his follow up to "Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds," Gallagher opted not to release the album, which has been described as unconventional, experimental, and even psychedelic. Instead, Gallagher has re-recorded two of his songs from those sessions ("The Right Stuff" and "The Mexican") for inclusion on "Chasing Yesterday." "The Right Stuff" is a radical departure for Gallagher and provides a better hint of what could have been than "The Mexican" (which sounds more like a conventional rock song, complete with a Rolling Stones-esque opening riff). "The Right Stuff" has an airy, ethereal quality to it that sounds less like psychedelic rock and more like smooth jazz. Gallagher even enlists the help of guest vocalist Joy Rose, and the two sound like they're performing in a smoky club. It's an outstanding track and a fascinating "what-if" for people who have long wondered if Noel Gallagher is simply a one-trick pony or is capable of stepping out of his comfort zone and expanding his musical horizons. Amorphous Androgynous were clearly in the latter camp, saying that Gallagher missed his "moment of revolution."

Then again, who knows whether an entire album of Noel Gallagher experimenting with various genres of music would be any good (the remixes AA did to several of Gallagher's songs off his solo debut might be a better clue of what their collaboration would have sounded like). It's entirely possible that such an album would be terrible and stop Gallagher's solo career dead in its tracks. Instead, he took the safe way out, and that's not necessarily the wrong move. After all, he's played it safe his entire career and he's done pretty well for himself.

And if history has shown us anything, it's that his next album will be the one where he starts to fall off the cliff. Prove us wrong, Noel!

Grade: B-

Victor Li

chicago, il