Sound — 8
"Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds" is essentially the first solo outing of Britain's revered songwriter. It's unclear who the High Flying Birds are, aside from session musicians supporting Noel while touring the album, much in the way that McCartney formed Wings out of not wanting the stand alone, despite the compositions being very much his.
The album's plush, clean production is established within the first 40 seconds via swirling strings and orchestration. The trademark ingredients of Noel's Oasis career all remain intact, with stomping rhythms meeting instant melodies and a preference for minor chords. "Dream On" and "The Death of You and Me" have a marching band, carnival vibe reminiscent of seminal Noel-sung Oasis single "The Importance of Being Idle," boasting trumpets, falsetto vocals and a skulking quality about the verses. Otherwise, we are treated to the more mature sound that Noel began on last album "Dig Out Your Soul," with the single "AKA… What a Life," as danceable as it is melancholic, described by Noel as sounding like a collaboration between him and The Chemical Brothers. The verse for "Stranded on the Wrong Beach" has a pumping rhythm and acid bass timbre that comes close to The Black Keys or Goldfrapp style. Noel has always been a magpie when it comes to lifting snippets from other songs and writing his own, and High Flying Birds often falls in line with his often-criticised tradition. I feel it a bit unfair that Noel has been singled out for scorn in this area, as the art of songwriting more or less relies on pinching hooks - there's only so many riffs and chord progressions to choose from, and we are all limited by this. Noel has never made it his prerogative to reinvent the wheel, and fans are thankfully greeted by this attitude yet again on the new record.
Lyrics — 8
The album has some top-drawer Noel lines and explores typical themes of mortality, existentialism and life. "If I Had a Gun" is intensely romantic: "my eyes have always followed you across the room," and also provokes imagination with the opening line "if I had a gun, I'd shoot a hole into the sun." I have always admired Noel for his ability to say complex things simply. "High Flying Birds" is perhaps not his best album lyrically for those who know his work well, as he falls back on a lot of his regular hang-ups, such as mentioning God, lemonade and "in and out." But the songs are carried by highly memorable, sing along melodies that provide any necessary compensation for lack of fresh direction. "Broken Arrow" particularly is a great example of Noel's ability to resonate with listeners by sounding plaintive and downtrodden. In this vein he is a better vocalist than brother Liam, as he might lack the sheer gravel in his throat that Liam has, but does have a decent range and a refreshingly human quality. In a musical landscape dominated by the nasal, americanised, Billie Joe Armstrong school of singing, Noel is the perfect study for more serious British singer-songwriters.
Overall Impression — 8
Noel said in a recent interview that this album is one of four he is proud of in his career, and is his favourite since "Definitely Maybe." This may be true for him, but "High Flying Birds" unsurprisingly shares the syndrome of mid-career Oasis in that it doesn't feature any career defining hits. It doesn't have the extreme shifts in dynamics that "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" had, with no molten rockers and "Stop the Clocks" falling somewhat short of his older flag-waving ballads. The album is, however, a good collection of songs that really outlines "Noel-rock" and sees him growing old gracefully. I can see the album exporting well internationally as Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" did, and slotting prominently into the chill-out section of fan's CD racks.