Noel Gallagher is an asshole.
I love him for this reason. He can take it as well as he dishes it out. The 47-year-old Manchester native is too famous to care about the repercussions of his public statements. On his own guitar playing: “I’m average at fucking best.” On Kanye West’s “artistry” spazz over Beck’s win at the Grammys: “Well, No.1, somebody should buy that boy a dictionary. And he needs to look up the fucking term ‘artistry’ and then see if it reminds him, in any way, of Beyoncé.” On his brother and former bandmate Liam: “He’s rude, arrogant, intimidating and lazy. He’s the angriest man you’ll ever meet. He’s like a man with a fork in a world of soup.” For decades, music journalists have compiled lists documenting all the asshole things Noel and Liam have said about their peers, the music industry, drugs, Blur and each other. It’s too easy and fun not to.
Oasis will never tour together again. Even as a devoted fan, I don’t want them to. It might suck. It would be a going-through-the-motions-for-a-pay-out move, like when the Pixies came back, and the charm eventually wore off. Besides, it would take millions and millions of dollars, and Liam and Noel are not broke.
It must be irritating trying to do your own thing while knowing the world wants Oasis back. As I musician, I know how boring it can be to play the same songs over and over, but when people sing along to the words you wrote, your ego starts to jelly-bean, and you remember why you have the easiest job in the world.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds released their underrated self-titled debut in 2011; critics and fans mainly complained that it wasn’t Oasis. But Noel has always been realistic about expectations. He knows how to suck it up and please the crowd. (He’s ragged on Thom Yorke for tinkling on his piano and talking about social issues instead of playing “Creep” because that’s what the audience actually wants.) When I saw Noel play solo in the summer of 2012, he played his new material, but balanced the set with old Oasis hits. He knew that’s what the ticket holders wanted. That’s unpretentious. That’s respectable. Then, he yelled at some guy who was interrupting him with requests and kicked him out of stadium.
The brain gets giddy when it hears something it’s heard before — see “The Hook Theory” by Dave Carlton. There’s just certain combinations of chords that appeal to the average human ear, but it has more to do with patterns than choice. Noel is a successful musician for many reasons, but mostly because he understands what appeals to the masses: a comfortable familiarity they can recognize. His new album Chasing Yesterday is a product of Noel’s record collection: Brit rock infused with ’80s saxophone wails and bright, clean guitar leads. Johnny Marr even plays on the single “Ballad of the Mighty I.”
Did he choose to kick off the album with an acoustic riff strum in the same pattern as “Wonderwall”? The critics noticed. He got annoyed, but you can’t help but wonder if it was on purpose. But once the song kicks in, opener “Riverman” sounds nothing like “Wonderwall,” yet it’s still classic Noel, comfortable rock with a heroic radio hook. Call-back vocals ring from behind the lead guitar. The production is clean and focused. “In the Heat of the Moment” features the album’s strongest hook. It goes “nah nah nah nah nah nah,” proving that Noel always chooses melody over lyrics. It bounces with an unusual dance beat, something like clanging church bells.
You could imagine “Lock All the Doors” charting as a top single in 1995, and “While the Song Remains the Same” chugs along in a smooth, adult fashion. “The Mexican” sounds like a misfit b-side from Oasis’ last album Dig Out Your Soul (2008); I can only describe it as “groovy,” which makes me feel like someone’s funky mom. “Ballad of the Mighty I” has a shaking, if dated, dance beat and subtle piano. It’s a dark song, layered with vocals that answer one another in scaled harmonies, reaching a triumphant coda when Noel calls out, “Yes, I’ll find you.”
None of Chasing Yesterday is too distinct, but it’s not bad. Actually, it’s solid rock songwriting, it’s just not challenging or going for anything new. But I don’t think it’s supposed to be. Noel’s a veteran. He’s rich. He’s happy. He’s at a place where he can just make the music he wants to without really giving a shit about the critics. And besides, Noel’s asshole, rebel spirit is in his public persona and his lack of pretensions about fame, not in his songwriting.
Noel hates making music videos. “I did not get into music to be in a video,” he recently told Noisey. “I am not one of the Kaiser Chiefs.” The video for “Ballad of the Mighty I” starts with Noel standing in a bleak, gray park somewhere in England. A young director huddled in a puffy, fur-hooded parka (something he and Liam might have worn in ’96 when they were on all the cocaine) takes a selfie with the reluctant Noel. The director then tries to tell Noel what to do as the camera follows him, drifting through the streets as barefooted people run into him without notice. Eventually, he wanders into an office where they are editing his video, then back to a set where he plays with his band, and then he circles right back around to his beginning mark outside. It’s a self-aware, simple video concept. While Kanye can call himself God and believe it without a moment of inward psychoanalysis, Noel boasts his excellence while proving he’s becoming increasingly self-aware with age. Maybe he always was, and we just didn’t notice because Liam was swearing into the camera.
When the director yells cut, he walks over and instructs Noel to go again, first calling him by his brother’s name and quickly correcting his mistake. A fed-up Noel does what he does best: he says, “Fuck off,” this time with only his eyes, that resting asshole face solid as stone. And then he walks away.