From Definitely Maybe to their break up in 2009, Oasis had always been defined by the dynamic and frequently antagonistic relationship between brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher. After finally having enough, Noel left the band in 2009, but that hasn’t stopped either brother from making music. Liam worked with the rest of Oasis to form Beady Eye, while Noel formed Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. I thought for the fun of it, I’d look at’em together. I’m not pitting them against each other in terms of which one’s better, but more seeing what each one does.
First of all, it’s worth noting that this is really the first time in both brothers’ career that it’s possible for them to carry on without the other. Noel wrote all of the songs on the first three Oasis albums, but it wasn’t until B-side comp. The Masterplan in 1998 that he was seen as a consistent performer in his own right. Liam’s first writing contribution to Oasis came in 2000, but it wasn’t until “I’m Outta Time” on 2009’s Dig Out Your Soul that he, to me, really put in a solid tune.
As Oasis became more democratic and successful on Dig Out Your Soul and its predecessor Don’t Believe the Truth, the idea of Beady Eye became more tangible. Liam, arguably one of the purest “Rock N’ roll” frontmen of the past decade, always acted like Oasis was rougher than they ever were, and Beady Eye gets to actualize that rock and roll spirit.
Beady Eye also borrow more from the 60s than Oasis ever did. That’s less of a slam, and more of an honest assessment (and besides, when you have a song called “Beetles and Stones”, you’re not even hiding it anymore); Different Gear‘s warm, thin production and crunchy, over-driven guitars call to mind The Kinks and, well, the Beatles and Rolling Stones. But while other bands just nick those bands’ sounds, Beady Eye have the attitude to match. The rockers on Different Gear aren’t especially loud or distorted, but kick the guitars into overdrive and Liam’s snarl drives it all home. Aside from poppier singles like “The Roller” and “Bring the Light”, the more rocking songs such as “Four Letter Word”, “Beetles and Stones”, and “Wind Up Dream” are sturdier than the album’s ballads.
At the heart of it, most ballads rely on a mix of really good/honest songwriting and polished songcraft. Unfortunately, these are probably both of Beady Eye’s lowest marks. “The Morning Son” ends about two minutes too late, while “The Beat Goes On” takes itself too seriously. The musicianship across the album is fine if you’re in a rock and roll mindset, but don’t push for anything new or original. At best, Different Gear is a well performed, if underwritten, reliable rock album.
Meanwhile, Noel’s lead single “The Death of You and Me” was released mostly to reassure fans that Noel’s sound hadn’t changed much, and the song recalls the jaunt of Oasis’s last really enduring single “The Importance of Being Idle” in a successful way. While Beady Eye got Oasis’ sheer loudness in the divorce, High Flying Birds nabbed the songwriting, scope, and melody. Different Gear mostly stuck with the traditional rock band setup, and a vintage production; High Flying Birds is loaded with overdubs, choirs, and strings, and has an all-encompassing massive production. From the first minute of opener “Everybody’s on the Run”, Noel makes it clear that he’s going big, and seldom backs down over the next nine songs.
It’s been noted that internationally, Noel’s had a much brighter reception with NGHFB charting number one in three countries as compared to Different Gear‘s zero (conveniently, Noel didn’t have to take Adele head on in the U.K.). There are multiple reasons for this (Noel being generally more friendly, and having Definitely Maybe on your resume is a plus), but simply put, it’s just easier to get excited about the songs on High Flying Birds. When he’s on target, he’s putting out some truly solid stuff; the midtempo “(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine” reaches for the rafters and nails it, and “Dream On”‘s urgent chorus pulls you in at first listen.
For being one of the leaders of a giant rock band, Noel doesn’t seem to share his brother and company’s desire to rock. Aside from the odd solo or two or use as a rhythm instrument, guitars are rarely at the forefront of High Flying Birds. Instead, the album opts for something that’s not quite balladry, but doesn’t really rock either, but the result is more satisfying than not. Noel only wears thin towards the end of the album with skippable cuts like “Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks” and “(Stranded On) The Wrong Side of the Beach”, but manages to recover just in time for closer “Stop the Clocks”, which was originally an Oasis outtake. While the songwriting is very Noel, and filled with odd phrases/titles and occasionally painful rhymes, it’s certainly more nuanced and has a charm missing from Beady Eye. Different Gear might sneer at you, High Flying Birds has a silly grin.
Both groups inherited some of Oasis’ strengths, but also got some of their weaknesses as well. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds would benefit with just a little roughing up while providing Beady Eye with a little ambition to lift them above their journeyman rock. But who am I kidding?You’ll probably be able to catch some of these songs at the Oasis 2015 reunion tour.
Different Gear, Still Speeding: 3/5
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: 3.5/5