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

 The new dance diva (image via YouTube).

The new dance diva (image via YouTube).

There is a school of thought that the feud between the Gallagher brothers is fake - a manufactured back-and-forth between two media savvy rock stars who know that, the more they “fight,” the more publicity they get and the more albums they sell.

Now they’re releasing albums within two months of each other (in fact, it worked out so that Noel’s lead single, “Holy Mountain” came out at around the same time that his brother released his album, “As You Were”). It's not quite the same as the 1990s when Oasis and Blur would release records on the same day while the compliant media would fight amongst themselves to see who could make the most "Battle of Britain" puns. That feud may have been largely manufactured, but there were real feelings of resentment on both sides. Plus, the conventional wisdom that Oasis was the band that stuck to what worked while Blur was the band that was more willing to experiment had some element of truth to it.

By releasing albums so close to one another, the Gallagher brothers (who are, supposedly, in the midst of a Christmas-inspired truce) invited comparisons to one another and ensured that any review of one would include a lot of column inches about the other. 

Case in point, this review.

For his third solo album, "Who Built the Moon?" the former Oasis songwriter took a page from Blur's playbook and decided to take a chance. While his brother retreated to more familiar confines to great acclaim and success, Noel 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?

For the most part - yes. "Who Built the Moon?" isn't much of a listen at first glance. It’s more of a chore to get through than “As You Were” and there are fewer obvious hit singles. However, Noel’s latest grows on you to the point where you'll find yourself singing it nonstop after a few listens.

Take lead single "Holy Mountain.” The upbeat dance song with the "She Bangs"-esque chorus was widely lampooned when it was initially released. After a few listens, the infectiously catchy song grows on you to the point where you’ll be singing it for days. (See? Max Martin isn’t the only one who can craft an ear worm of a dance song.) I hated this song when I first heard it. Now, I think I love it. I guess that, pretty much, sums up how a lot of people first felt when the Gallagher brothers burst onto the scene. 

It’s a daring and unconventional move for a guy who rarely sounds like he’s having fun when he sings. Based on reports, he completely stepped out of his comfort zone for this album, changing up his songwriting process so that, rather than going into the studio with finished songs ready to record, he and producer David Holmes came up with the overall sound of the album first and created songs off of that pre-set vibe.

“I had written and demoed Chasing Yesterday and I played David those songs, a few years ago,” Gallagher says of his 2015 album, “But he said, ‘This is done. Call me when you want to start from scratch.’”

Without question, the album sounds like nothing Noel Gallagher has ever done. Perhaps the closest was in 2000 when Oasis was at a career crossroads and Noel decided to experiment, delivering “Standing on the Shoulder of Giants." That album, like this one, saw Noel move away from his guitar-oriented sound while incorporating psychedelic, electronic and Indian themes. Perhaps Noel had this in mind when he decided to do this record. After all, opening track “Fort Knox” sounds like the psychedelic-and-Indian-tinged cousin to “Fuckin’ in the Bushes,” the opening track to "Giants." Like “Bushes,” “Fort Knox” is an uptempo, mostly-instrumental track and should be a good intro for Noel and his band when they take the stage.

Second single “It’s a Beautiful World” recalls another change-of-pace album that featured a lot of Indian and electronic elements: INXS's 1992 album “Welcome to Wherever You Are.” Noel even sounds a little like Michael Hutchence from that era.  

Other highlights on the album include “She Taught Me to Fly" (the one with the scissors player), “Keep on Reaching” and “Black & White Sunshine.” The former two rely heavily on lush production - particularly a big drum-and-horn arrangement - while the latter sounds more conventional and wouldn't have been out of place on either of his first two albums. 

With so much emphasis on sound and tone, the lyrics seem to take a back seat. For instance, "She Taught Me to Fly" has some of the most generic lyrics this side of a Train song. "The one I love / She's divine /She’s out to blow my mind," is one such line. Another gem: "The one I love / She taught me to fly / She taught me how to fly." Don't know why he felt like he had to clarify that she taught him how to fly since it's implied in the previous line. Maybe he needed the extra beat to accommodate his scissors player. 

In any event, "Who Built the Moon?" is an interesting album from an artist who knew he needed to re-invent himself. Time will tell whether it was a successful move. And hey, it's not like Liam could have pulled this album off. 

Grade: B

Victor Li

chicago, il