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Sunday, September 25, 2011
Noel Gallagher's flying high again
Noel Gallagher is in the dressing room at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, England. It's August 11, 1996, and he and his band Oasis have just played the second of two 125,000-capacity concerts — events that would prove to be the high-water mark for British rock music in both the 1990s and subsequent decade. Like everyone else present, he's wondering what on earth he can do to top this when he's approached by an executive from his then record label, Sony Music.
"I distinctly remember somebody sidling up to me," he recalls, "saying, 'It's time for the solo record now.'"
Fast forward to 2011 and Gallagher is finally taking that unnamed executive's counsel on board as he prepares to release his first solo album, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, in October. Given that, in the intervening 15 years, Oasis repeatedly tried and failed to live up to their staggering artistic and commercial achievements of the mid-90s, does he ever wish he'd listened to that advice and made a solo record earlier in his career?
"Well," he reflects, sipping cappuccino in the Mirror Bar of London's Landmark Hotel, "I always said I wouldn't do it if the band was together."
That Noel Gallagher is here today, with not just one, but two solo albums in the bag, is testament to the fact that the band is now anything but together. Oasis' split was as messy as anything in their volatile 18-year career, the band finally imploding during a furious row between Gallagher and his younger frontman brother, Liam, backstage at France's Rock en Seine festival in August 2009. The precise reason for the split varies according to which brother you listen to (Noel's version of events even prompted legal action from the younger Gallagher) but both seem to agree on one thing: that, despite their lengthy previous track record of fights and reconciliations, this time the split is permanent.
"Liam's already said that the thought of getting back together makes him want to vomit," says Gallagher, tersely. "And I've got nothing to add to that."
If Noel is grateful to his little brother for one thing, however, it's surely that he rushed out his own post-Oasis project, the retro rock'n'roll of Beady Eye, while Gallagher Senior was still holed up in the studio. While Noel defends the commercial (under) achievement of Beady Eye's Different Gear, Still Speeding album ("They've sold 10,000 less than the Arctic Monkeys — that's only one hit single"), it surely takes the pressure off when it comes to his own solo debut.
"I can't decide how many it sells," he shrugs. "If you like what I do, there's lots on there for you to like, but also some stuff that you wouldn't expect. And if you don't like what I do, believe you me there's enough on there for you to hate."
In fact, High Flying Birds is good enough to even turn the head of Oasis' many detractors. The accusation that Gallagher was stockpiling his best songs for a solo project seems now to carry some weight, at least in the sense that Everybody's On The Run, If I Had A Gun, AKA...What A Life! and (Stranded On) The Wrong Beach are streets ahead of anything on the last Oasis album, 2008's Dig Out Your Soul.
Crucially, casting off the yoke of Oasis' stadium rock also means he's free to try his hand at everything from subtle dance grooves to gravelly blues stomps alongside the expected singer-songwriter guitar anthems, making for his most satisfying set of songs since 1995's all-conquering (What's The Story) Morning Glory?
There's more to come, with Gallagher about to sign off on a musically ambitious project with electronic producers Amorphous Androgynous, aka Future Sound Of London. Indeed, that album was supposed to come first, until Gallagher decided it "would f — k people's heads up too much." Four of the songs on High Flying Birds were originally intended for the Amorphous Androgynous collaboration, but after hearing how the electronic duo treated If I Had A Gun — "not destroyed it, but demolished it and put it back together again" — Gallagher decided to score them in a more conventional fashion. The four songs now appear on both albums, but on the Amorphous Androgynous venture they are supplemented by 10 fresh ones better suited for the experimental project.
Such prolific output paints a picture of a man going through a creative purple patch after years of artistic stagnation. But there's no chance of measuring up commercially against his former band — the group that defined the Britpop era. After all, Oasis shifted a staggering 663,000 UK copies of 1997's Be Here Now in just three days — a record that, thanks to shrinking album sales, will almost certainly never be broken. Neither is a British rock band likely to be so culturally influential as to be invited for drinks at 10 Downing Street (as Gallagher was by Tony Blair in 1997) any time soon. It leaves him as the rock equivalent of the last man on the moon; a rare human being who has scaled heights that few had experienced before, and none have since.
(See pictures of Britain's Royal stamps featuring classic English rock albums.)
"We don't live in an era where indie rock bands sell 60 million albums," he concurs. "Oasis were the last great, traditional rock'n'roll band. We came along before the Internet so, if you wanted to see us, you had to be there. It makes me feel like a righteous old man."
But then, it's not just Oasis that never matched their own early achievements — nobody else has either, from Radiohead to the Arctic Monkeys. So, with people still desperate for the next big guitar crossover record, could Gallagher's own solo album actually be what everyone's been waiting for?
"I have to say I'd be absolutely f — king disgusted if a 45-year-old father of three came along to save British guitar music," he laughs, as he finishes his coffee. "I'd have to go on the news and tell the kids that they'd failed."
Via Live4ever source: time.com
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