In the last days of summer '09, Noel Gallagher, chief songwriter and guitarist of Manchester malcontents Oasis, had had enough. Alongside his singer bro Liam, Noel had ridden Oasis success far beyond what a working-class kid could imagine. He was done sparring with the press, with band management, and, most of all, his younger bro. Those fights became legendary, rituals of emotional and legal entanglements.
Their sound had been wrapped round the Union Jack, guitar-driven anthems that drew from The Beatles, with mid-tempo kick and snare, rolling tom-toms, and hung on hooks that brought karaoke to football stadiums. The bashers were loud, glam-tinged, and Liam’s undeniable voice carried more than a passing taste of Johnny Rotten at the end of each line. He'd lock his hand behind his back, wear a hoodie bearing the name some Manchester soccer club, and glorious stompers like "Rock and Roll Star" and "Cigarettes and Alcohol" had enough attitude to sway the boys and the girls, the men and the women, who followed the band everywhere. The entire catalog of Noel’s songs, most sung by Liam, even now belong to fans and not to the smug, opinionated, yet good-natured and damn funny eldest bro.
So, in clear deference to Manchester, England's post-punk timeline of bands and their often-tortured leaders, Noel looked back long enough to leave the lifestyle, the insanity and brother Liam behind.
He was in good company, close pal Paul Weller had also pulled the plug on owning the UK, as did pal Johnny Marr, both of whom he's recorded with, to name a few.
In 2010 Noel cobbled together The Highflying Birds for a self-titled debut album with hits, leaning on some basic Oasis-type material but working out a newer sound of his own. His next record, 2015's Chasing Yesterday, was arguably a leaner, stronger set of songs. “Riverman” opens the album with a title that made some people wonder if Noel was covering the Nick Drake tune, but no, just in name only. Besides, the guy writes 30-odd tunes for a record then digs them out naturally one by one, and no one can copyright a song title.
“Riverman” is strangely psychedelic, finding the acoustic-guitar strumming pattern pushing the song forward with swing and space for the drummer to stretch out between verses. Noel's voice carries a subtle warmth as languidly strolling ahead of all the bullshit. (Or it could be he's speaking directly to the listener with words that are never overwrought with pretend angst or that tone that warns even the most ardent fan that the singer could careless about one thing he’s saying as long as he gets this vocal take.
There's a journeyman songwriter here where the whole package—melody, performance and style—comes on, in a way, like some crush on a girl he could never have. It's got that sweet rush-in-the-gut swell.
Everything seems to be going very well for Gallagher and I'd guess he probably knew that from the beginning that he was the brother who had a way to say things to make people feel them.
“When the Riverman comes," well, he’s arrived, and he's, no doubt, not done pouring his thoughts out in a way that most everyone can understand and appreciate.
Noel spoke recently of the Manchester suicide bombing, how it was aimed at young music fans looking for outlets of creativity and appreciation. And at a tribute for the victims in Manchester's St. Ann's Square, the crowd broke into the Oasis hit "Don't look back in Anger."
I listened to Oasis for the first time 10 years after the fact, but bought his Chasing Yesterday album a year ago. When I put it on, I know I'm inside some very good songs with craft and a obvious love for the four-minute story.