I wouldn’t say my 2011 review of Noel Gallagher’s debut solo album was particularly harsh, but it did provoke pangs of guilt while trying to sieve the positives from an album that largely disappointed. Not because it was terrible, but, by taking two steps forward and one step back - burdening ambitious, drifting musical adventures with deadweight lyrics - it was all the more frustrating to see what that extra mile could have been, and what we knew he was capable of.
I just wanted to be more surprised. I wanted giant strides, and instead got tentative steps. Then, to put the boot in further, I found myself more impressed by the second outing from little brother Liam’s band, Beady Eye, which, a year and a half later, picked up the sonic baton Noel hadn’t intended to pass, and suggested braver developments beyond their standard guitar fare.
I imagined Noel didn’t like that. Kept looking over my shoulder while walking alone down dark streets…
So it’s with some relief all round that ‘Chasing Yesterday’ sees that confident advance finally put into practice. If the album title refers to a nostalgic yearning, I suspect it’s more to do with the hunger and energy that drove him in the pre-Oasis years, rather than pining for their record-breaking sales figures or attendance records, which have abated somewhat over the years.
That would explain the unearthing of ‘Lock All The Doors’, a song written in 1992. Noel Gallagher was 25-years-old, an ex-roadie who preferred carrying his sibling’s band instead of amps. The Great Britpop Wars were still three years away, but, as we well know, the Gallaghers were never shy with their self-belief, and the only way to achieve pipe dreams like selling out Knebworth was to write anthems big enough to fill it. Though it never made the cut for ‘Definitely Maybe’, the song now seems a totem of possibilities: a reminder of the days before pressure, expectations, and judgement.
The fourth track in, it sounds like Noel finally realising his dream of being in the Sex Pistols - with its forceful wall of guitars, it’s aggressive, unstoppable, and defiant; “Turn all the lights off inside,” he sings in the chorus, “I can be sure / Like never before / This time”. It sounds like an awakening. It’s like he’s finally ready to take on the challenge again - what do I want, and how do I go about getting it?
Going by the extent of little surprises that pepper the album, I’d wager that Noel just wanted to indulge in his own muse, confound fans and haters alike, and generally just enjoy what it means to be Noel Gallagher making music at 47.
I mean, opening with an almost-six-minute ambient trip that fuses dreamy prog guitar with a jazz sax solo? That’s fucking hilarious. ‘Riverman’ is melodically pure Noel, but its hypnotic, winding backdrop is a nice hint at what unpredictability may follow.
It’s explored further in ‘The Right Stuff’, where an acid-tinged groove plays host to that sax again. Its trance-like qualities echo the sweet bliss intoned in the chorus duet, “You and I got the right stuff”, and segues neatly into ‘While The Song Remains The Same’, in which Noel pleads for sanctuary in “a place where the sun shines through the rain”.
There are stumbles along the way - ‘The Girl With X-Ray Eyes’ and ‘The Dying Of The Light’ are limp in comparison to the meatier songs that surround them - but as we reach the dirty triptych that closes ‘Chasing Yesterday’, those slights are a distant memory. ‘The Mexican’ is delightfully sleazy; crunchy guitars and insistent cowbells punctuate Noel’s characteristic shrewd perceptions; “I got a feeling of what you are,” he warns, before lightening up on ‘You Know We Can’t Go Back’, a heartening stormer that’s in urgent need of a John Hughes movie.
Finally, the Johnny Marr-featuring first single ‘Ballad Of The Mighty I’ brings us to a mighty climax. The most modern sounding track on the record, built around an incessant four-to-the-floor beat and pumping bass line, it’s at once reassuring yet menacing - the echoing claims of “I’ll find you” may serve as either consolation or a threat (perhaps the latter if he disagrees with this review, too).
The most impressive thing about ‘Chasing Yesterday’ is the playfulness that’s woven throughout it. It’s there in the snippets of studio banter, the unexpected instrumentation, the massive choruses, and the enduring couldn’t-give-a-fuck attitude he’s surely developed that lets him toss off lazy rhymes while knowing he’ll get away with it. It’s the sound of Noel Gallagher happy at work. It’s him pushing for more. I hoped for development, and I wasn’t disappointed. “Give you the world if you take my hand,” he implores in the closing number, and you know what? I like where he’s headed.
Words: Simon Harper
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