There are few artists quite like Noel Gallagher. True tastemaker, songwriter of the legendary Oasis, and reluctant older brother of Liam, Noel Gallagher is known for his biting wit, beautiful head of hair, and desire to do things a bit differently. While he’s never shied from speaking out against idiotic world leaders, he’s thoughtfully decided not to let that seep over into his music. When he spoke to Vulture earlier this week, Noel explained, “I guess if you’re a guy playing guitar these days, you’re obliged to write about the news. But it’s almost revolutionary not to, and to focus on the joy and uplifting nature of rock and roll instead.”
So, while other artists this year like LCD Soundsystem and Father John Misty focused on politically-driven records with personally-inflected lyrics, Noel Gallagher has done something else with his solo project’s third album, Who Built The Moon?; he’s gone outside the current horrors of the world and decided to view us from outer space through the lens of what he calls “cosmic pop.” And it totally works.
An unfortunate postscript to the record has recently become plagued by the fact that Noel had the gall to release it only a month after his brother Liam released his first complete solo effort, As You Were. And with overlapping promotion cycles, inevitable comparison has ensued. While Liam thrived in evoking The Beatles, Oasis, and other classic bands of yesteryear in his music, the comparison collapses once you realize Noel seems to be working in another plane. Liam’s straightforward, personal record was the story he needed to tell, and he did it well. But Noel is free from family burden and able to experiment and exist outside the narrative of his brother. He wants to go to the moon and this album totally takes us there.
Right out of the gate, the mostly instrumental first track “Fort Knox” is perhaps the greatest moodsetter and opening track to a record this year. The combination of sick guitar, wailing, disembodied voices, and sophisticated production begs you to turn up the volume and strap in for a ride. The album’s first single “Holy Mountain,” while temporarily bogged down with strange comparisons to Ricky Martin upon its release, is one of Noel’s greatest musical triumphs in recent memory. A super fun romp rife with dance-y guitars, pop-y horns and a catchy chorus, “Holy Mountain” features memorable and evocative lines as perfect as “She had a look you won’t find in no book / And she smelt like 1969.”
Each track eases into the next, sounding distinctly its own while clearly forming this otherworldly concept narrative. Whether through upbeat trumpets keeping time and lively drums that seem to awaken on their own in “Keep On Reaching,” or moody effect pedals and sexy, breathy vocals offset by a chorus of female voices on “Be Careful What You Wish For,” each song feels full-bodied, alive, and purposeful. There’s chimes, backup singers, synths, strings, an organ, tin whistle, and even a French spoken-word verse or two; and it all fully commits in a powerful way.
The second single, “It’s A Beautiful World,” which features that French spoken word verse, is Noel’s most overt U2 homage. After touring with them this summer, it’s no surprise to hear their influence pop up, and Bono-esque lyrics sound good coming out of Noel’s mouth. More surprisingly, the decidedly New Order-inspired “She Taught Me How To Fly” has pounding drums and guitar riffs ripped straight from “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Blue Monday.” “The Man Who Built The Moon” is the only song on the record that feels reminiscent of Noel’s previous album, Chasing Yesterday, and that’s not a bad thing. This dark storytelling track is big, robust, and proof that Noel has no interest in creating a record that holds back in any way.
The few moments that Who Built The Moon? is most reeled-in arrive in two perfectly-timed breaths of fresh air with “Interlude (Wednesday Part I)” and “End Credits (Wednesday Part II).” Not only do these soft instrumentals feel reminiscent of the restrained piano melodies of Radiohead, but assert the otherworldly theme of the record: Noel is outside of us all and looking in. The opening to the shimmery album highlight “If Love Is The Law” confirms this when Noel sings, “Here I am / High up on a ledge / I’m standing on the edge of night / in a lonesome town / where love has been and gone.” Just a hint of harmonica and acoustic guitar give the song an earthy feel when Noel cleverly muses, “If love is a law, then this is a crime.”
Lastly, the cherry on top of this brilliant record is the exquisite inclusion of the bonus track “Dead In The Water,” secretly recorded live before a show in Dublin unbeknownst to Noel. The raw performance features nothing but a sweet piano melody, acoustic guitar, and Noel’s haunting vocals echoing in the space. The result sounds like a tech roadie accidentally captured lightning in a bottle; this isn’t something to be replicated but forever preserved on this album in its original form. Noel’s decision to not re-record the song is nothing short of genius.
In a time when music and people feel so bogged down by the weight of the world, Noel Gallagher created something joyful and free. Who Built The Moon? is both relevant and not of this time; it is familiar without being reductive, and fresh yet remaining otherworldly. If this is the beginning of what he calls “cosmic pop,” then baby, fly me to the moon.
Highlights: “Holy Mountain,” “She Taught Me How To Fly,” “Be Careful What You Wish For,” “If Love Is The Law,” “Dead On The Water”
Noel Gallagher, Who Built The Moon? Rating: 9.5/10