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REVIEW: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – ‘This Is The Place’ EP (Sour Mash)


In a sentence:

Noel Gallagher’s latest EP ‘This Is The Place’ is a psychedelic indulgence in Madchester-inspired nostalgia.

Ever since his younger sibling’s solo career began outperforming his own a couple of years back, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds have been increasingly trapped between two stools. His expansion into different musical territories since 2017’s Who Built The Moon? has been intriguing, but has ultimately not involved anything that Britpop contemporaries like Ian Brown and Primal Scream didn’t already do over 20 years ago. Furthermore, in terms of appealing to the old Oasis fanbase, he’s been outflanked by Liam’s self-professed ‘meat and two veg’ rock ‘n’ roll, with his enjoyable second LP Why Me? Why Not. released just last week. Not that this particularly seems bother Noel, as This Is The Place, the second of a planned trio of EPs in 2019, demonstrates.

Exploring his long-professed love of Manchester’s dance-music culture and the heady days of the Haҫienda, rhythm and psychedelic instrumentation takes primacy over the guitar over the three new tracks. Like its predecessor Black Star Dancing three months ago, the running length is bulked out with two remixes. Boasting a steady, soulful house rhythm and a nifty yet economical bass hook, title track ‘This Is The Place’ is an exercise in precision, the bells, bongos and female backing vocals all painstakingly arranged to distance Noel and his High Flying Birds as far away from expectations as possible. Taking its name from a line from Tony Walsh’s poem in tribute to Manchester’s spirit following the terrorist atrocity at the Arena two years ago, it channels the spirit of bygone alternative-rock albums associated with the city’s sound, like the menacing electro of Vanishing Point and the hedonism of The Stone Roses.

Music video for ‘This Is The Place’

This Is The Place looks to dwell in that same headspace for its entirety, but the results are inconsistent. The cosmic synths driving ‘Evil Flower’ are similarly striking, making for a track redolent of the more experimental side of Happy Mondays, but the forgettable ‘A Dream Is All I Need To Get By’ is a bit lumpen despite its melodic qualities that are reminiscent of The Smiths. “I was talking in my sleep” sings Noel in a half-awake tone, begging the response that it sounds like he’s written it in his sleep too.

Of the two largely superfluous remixes, the Reflex Revision version of ‘Evil Flower’ is superior, slowing the groove down to a trip-hop speed so that it sounds like some cast-off from Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. The Dense & Pika remix of ‘This Is The Place’ is pleasingly club-orientated, but a bit perfunctory and directionless. Noel’s voice has always lent itself to dance music and psychedelia, going right back to his guest spot on The Chemical Brothers’ chart-topping ‘Setting Sun’ back in 1996, on top of his involvement with the space-rock-influenced Amorphous Androgynous, so it isn’t too surprising that he’s able to music this durable.

Looked at in the round, however, it’s a bit difficult to figure out to exactly whom Gallagher thinks he’s appealing these days, notwithstanding his admirable desire to expand his musical horizons beyond his beloved guitar. That much has been evident for a couple of years now, but both the European pop stylings of Who Built The Moon? and the cosmic rock blasts of Black Star Dancing were much more obviously in Noel’s wheelhouse than this. Perhaps this kind of journey is best undertaken with a creative partner to guide him and flesh out ideas alongside, a function that producer David Holmes performed with Who Built The Moon? – he’s been busy working on the ‘Killing Eve’ soundtrack lately, leaving Noel to produce these EPs by himself. As it stands, the results on This Is The Place pay lip service to the idea of revolutionising his sound, rather than actually being revolutionary. (5/10) (Ed Biggs)

Listen to This Is The Place EP by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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