Noel finds his wings with debut album
But the former Oasis star's rather nostalgic offering could have stretched us more, writes Barry Egan
They were Brit Pop's answer to The Odd Couple -- with Liam Gallagher playing Walter Matthau to Noel's Jack Lemmon ... on coke; at war; constantly walking out on each other.
Ten years ago I asked Noel, with all the rows and the fights appearing seemingly every other week in the tabloids, how close their world-dominating post-Beatles group Oasis had ever been to actually splitting up.
"There comes a point where me and Liam get into physical violence and it's just like, 'I can't sing harmonies with you -- basically I want to glass you.' Then you have six months off and your mam goes, 'Everything all right with each other?'
"The fat lady never started singing but she was definitely clearing her throat," he continued. "She was doing her scales before she went on stage."
The fat lady, as we know, has well and truly sung her lungs out now. Amid much Lennon v McCartney acrimony -- there were even legal threats, since resolved, mercifully, between Noel and Liam -- Noel is no longer in Oasis, the band that made his name and that of his brother. He left before a show in Paris in August 2009, citing all manner of bad things about Liam.
Time has been good to Noel. He is the mellowed supernova. He is playing Dublin's Olympia Theatre tonight -- it sold out in hours -- and is coming back to play the 02 Arena on February 17.
His debut solo offering, High Flying Birds, is a very good album, but part of me aches that he could have stretched both his and his audience's imagination a little more.
As Rob Mitchum writes in Pitchfork, High Flying Birds "sounds awfully nostalgic for the good old days. Gallagher passes on the opportunity to use this new career chapter for either an (Damon) Albarn-like experimental exploration or something stripped-down and personal."
"One word: Dido," was Liam's inaccurately cruel opinion of Noel's first single The Death Of You And Me. Maybe Liam was jealous because his own solo album with band Beady Eye might not be judged so positively in time as his brother's generally swooned-over creation.
Some reviews of the album have suggested, perhaps a little over-eagerly, that it is on a par with What's the Story, Morning Glory?
"It's difficult for me to get involved in that argument -- but I think it's the best collection of songs I've had on an album in a long time.
"I've not written a whole album since 1999, so I'm glad people are saying that," Noel said, adding that some of the songs were written as long as 10 years ago. It had never been his intention to hold them back for a solo project; fate just intervened.
"I'd actually recorded those songs for the last two Oasis albums -- and they were f**king great -- but the vocals were never finished on them; they weren't as good as the versions on this album. Liam always ran out of time to finish them and I thought if I didn't put them out now, I'm never going to."
Still, High Flying Birds is full of pretty much what you would expect from Mr N Gallagher (surprising when there was much talk of how he might experiment and break new ground with this record).
"There's echoes of Oasis in there," Noel has remarked of the new album, doubtlessly referring to (I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine, Stop The Clocks and AKA ... Broken Arrow -- which is a post-modern Wonderwall with a violin bow. All in all, High Flying Birds is still an album worth making the effort to discover and judge for yourself.
The former principal songwriter and brains behind Oasis first showed he didn't need Liam when he had to perform MTV Unplugged on his own in 1996 -- when Liam backed out minutes before the set was due to start. Noel came into his own that night.
Of Irish parents, Noel Gallagher is one of the more fascinating parts of a music industry in terminal decline.
In 2001 in London the multimillionaire but essentially decent bloke bristled with tales of his past. He told me he could remember his first job on a building site. "For as bad as it was," he laughed, "it makes you what you are."
Noel Gallagher plays The Olympia in Dublin tonight. The show is sold out