Review Summary: Walking the Talk.
There was once a certain confidence required to be a pop musician. It would be easy to blame the rise of political correctness for doing away with this notion yet the point remains still; musicians in the limelight are too cautious when it comes to speaking their minds.
That's likely because the pop music 'villain' has gone from being a marketable tool (The Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper) to being seen as an outright tool. With the uprising of social media, demonizing the actions of others has become shorthand for destroying the villain. Would-be bad boys a la Kanye West and Ariel Pink end up little more than whipping boys for a system so unsure of what it wants the victims become everybody and nobody. To put that into perspective, the blur vs. Oasis fiasco that (kind of) defined British music in the '90s drew fans far and wide to a group of men who took pride in their efforts to undermine and attack their rivals. Noel Gallagher's never lost that vitriolic edge, always keen to destroy his opponents in light of his forthcoming, so-called masterpieces.
It's a bit ironic that Gallagher would purvey this character, only to turn around and release an album that sounds like Chasing Yesterday
. Even at his most impolite and obnoxious, the likes of Be Here Now
felt like they had something to prove with incongruous NWA samples and towering song structures. Chasing Yesterday
doesn't feel halfway as contextually important as you might have expected from Gallagher's NME headlines. It's unsurprising to find Noel Gallagher sounding like Noel Gallagher, however the implications of grandeur and revolution now feel hollow. Overblown gestures? Tracks run a middle-of-the-road spectrum between "The Dying of the Light" and "Lock All the Doors", largely removed from the legacy of "Roll with It".
At the very least, Gallagher painstakingly crafts music that matches his opponents in quality. Nobody can argue that the soaring melodies of "In the Heat of the Moment" disappoint, making good on Gallagher's propensity to deliver melodically-simplistic hooks. The same is true of the cathartic swells of "Riverman", a just opener that ditches any attempt to be a clarion call. The music press have already honed in on how Chasing Yesterday
doesn't really live up to its press release and typically overblown rhetoric. For the most part that's true- “The Girl with X-Ray Eyes” a notable victim of Gallagher on autopilot- but it's not an inherently negative statement. Gallagher is at his best when he crafts anthems designed for Wembley, with most moments that move away from this formula falling on wooden ears.
In some facets, it counts as experimentation. Gallagher's affection for Johnny Marr has often trumped most other influences, so when he name-checks Josh Homme and Marc Bolan on the likes of "The Right Stuff" and "The Mexican", it harks back to a time when Oasis' bag of influences encompassed more than just The Beatles. Particular attention to "The Mexican"; Gallagher lists its inclusion based on Chasing Yesterday's
need to lighten up the melodrama (agreed). That same sentiment however dooms it to chaser status, the smooth gulp of coca-cola after a sharp shot of "While the Song Remains the Same". They are, far different from highlights or changes in pace, curiosities. Gallagher works best when in anthemic arena rock mode, so blues distractions serve little other purpose than to make Chasing Yesterday
appear more diverse than it really is.
It is a problem. For an artist who always finds it necessary to question the opposition, Chasing Yesterday
feels far more resigned and comfortable than anything Gallagher has created up until this point. He still does Ed Sheeran better than Ed Sheeran on "The Dying of the Light", and I'm not going to take away anything from the fact Gallagher can still clearly walk the talk. It's merely a niggling (albeit, persistent) notion that Chasing Yesterday
moves like pop music on autopilot, as if the point to prove is that Gallagher can still write cracking tunes while he mows the lawns. It could be taken as a hint that Oasis should reunite; what are the possibilities capable if Beady Eye's BE
could fuse its pretense and gesturing with the actual songwriting skills Gallagher displays here?
Contradictions of character and manifesto aside, Noel Gallagher has at the very least succeeded in creating a consistently solid piece of listening. Nothing feels out of place and nobody would argue that Gallagher wastes a second of our time; yet still, Chasing Yesterday
feels like a disservice. For a man who laments, among others, the downfall of Weller-esque models, he spends far too much time resting on his laurels and fighting with whatever's close at hand. For a man who, even at his most snowblind, was capable of making anything engaging, it becomes a question of affectation or simplicity. Would you rather an album that is absolutely killer without the pretense, or an album that is flawed and designed to represent a grand ideology? You decide.