As the title of his incoming third solo album – Who Built The Moon? – suggests, all is not as it once appeared on planet Noel.
After nearly 25 years rattling out earth-friendly, chart-topping hits, suddenly the atmosphere has changed. The Noel-axis has tilted and the recording studio controls have been set for the heart of the sun.
A “spirit of adventure” (as the former Oasis guitarist puts it) imbued from inside the lair of Belfast producer David Holmes, races right through his first truly risky record and walks slowly down the hall of his Sour Mash Records office too.
Even the album’s press release is a right gas.
“Noel’s musical evolution has gone from upright but hairy ape-man to sonically advanced, electronic, space Jazz future-man with little shiny silver booties on,” it reads.
“Who built the moon? Noel Gallagher did, and everyone else can just reach for it.”
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the accompanying biography of “Noel Edward Montague Gallagher…the boy from Burnley”, signed “Sir Rupert Bashford-Tillermouth, 29 August 2019” (all fictional, obviously), is that it arrives via email and not on the back of a techni-coloured unicorn.
“I love that press release!” laughs Noel, taking his seat in a deserted swanky Covent Garden, London restaurant.
What on earth is going on here? Is this the same bloke who wrote Wonderwall?
“I’d describe it as cosmic pop” he declares, proudly.
“It’s not really that far out, it’s just…it’s different. It’s just like me in more colourful clothes.
“Not like the clothes I’m wearing today, obviously,” jokes the 50-year-old, dressed head to toe in Johnny Cash black.
More like this…
He goes on: “My last record [2015’s Chasing Yesterday] – I wrote it, produced it and took it around the world. Did all the artwork.
“After doing that and being on the road with it for two years you have real definite sense of who you are as a musician and as a person and it was time to just put a full stop at that and say, ‘OK well that’s it now.’
“What on earth I’ve got left to prove by doing that? I don’t know.
“Then, by chance, I met David and he opened up a spirit of adventure in me and we went on a trip. It came out like this.”
Father of three Noel marked his 50th birthday this summer with a Narcos-themed, celebrity-packed shindig, in between “smashing it” on tour with U2 and re-opening the Manchester Arena – in the wake of the attack that resulted in Don’t Look Back In Anger becoming an “anthem for defiance”.
Now, like a musical Benjamin Button, the man who once said hip-hop had no place at Glastonbury seems more open to exploration and experimentation than ever before – give or take the odd cameo with The Chemical Brothers and a handful of psychedelic Oasis and solo tracks.
As well as writing in the studio for the first time, sampling tin whistles and singing in his highest register to date, the new record also sees Noel include (shock horror) girls in his band.
The latest incarnation of his High Flying Birds includes “a French bird in a cape” Charlotte Marionneau, aka Le Volume Courbe. But you might know her better as “The Scissor Queen”.
The TV performance, which saw her standing behind Noel, using scissors as a percussion instrument, cut so sharply across social media that his estranged brother Liam mockingly called out for somebody to play a potato peeler at one of his gigs.
Im looking for somebody to peel some spuds live on stage tnight at this gig in Bethnal Green must have own peeler as you were LG x
— Liam Gallagher (@liamgallagher) November 7, 2017
Naturally, somebody obliged.
New psych Noel, however, will not be moved.
“Charlotte is…” he declares, staring off into space for both thought and effect.
“She’s heroic. And she means it, and she brings to the band… cutting edge percussion.”
“I was in Manchester the other night,” he grins, “I’m going out with my friends and we’re in a car going up towards King Street and the car stops at the traffic lights.
“I was in the front seat and the car got surrounded by a load of geezers going [chants] ‘SCISSORS! SCISSORS!’
“So I don’t care about the reaction. She’s in the band and that’s the end of it.”
Charlotte, however, doesn’t just play the scissors.
She also grabs a mega-phone to alert the listener (en Francais) to the fact that it’s NOT a Beautiful World, in the middle of Noel’s dreamy/satirical new single of the same name.
Or at least Noel thinks she does…
“I don’t speak French” he says, with a Gallic shrug. “The French gigs are gonna be amazing… and a couple in Canada. Apart from that everyone else will be baffled!”
Aside from the French psych-pop vibes of lead single Holy Mountain, Noel’s Moon is built using elements of electro, soul, rock ‘n’ roll and disco, plus imaginary film scores.
The whole structure stands on the foundations of the largely instrumental Kanye West/Chemical Brothers-inspired opener Fort Knox, which features ticking clocks and another French-speaking newcomer; Audrey Gbaguidi, who performs a spine-tingling improvised wordless chant. Like an afro-beat version of Clare Torry’s vocals on Pink Floyd’s Great Gig In The Sky.
The Blondie-influenced She Taught Me To Fly provides another highlight but anyone holding out for a melancholic minor chord acoustic ballad, copyrighted by Noel in the mid 90s, will have to wait until bonus track Dead In The Water.
Now with a live UK tour on the way next year, how exactly will Noel and his new gang – which includes former Oasis members Gem Archer and Chris Sharrock – give crowds the highly-produced Moon on a stick?
“You’re never going to get it to sound exactly like the record” he says. “You’re just trying to get a representation of it on the night,”
“But we’re very good at what we do. I can already tell they’re gonna come across great live.”
- Review: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds debut ‘cutting edge’ songs live at York Hall
The only thing exciting Noel more than playing these ‘cosmic’ songs live is the “cosmic football” being played by his high flying football team Manchester City.
Fellow City fan Johnny Marr of Smiths fame plays guitar and harmonica on If Love is the Law, while Paul Weller jams along (pun intended) on the organ on the aforementioned Holy Mountain.
Another big Blue, Liam, scored a number one album himself earlier this season, though his match-winning effort is a good old-fashioned volley of rock ‘n’ roll.
“Is it?” snaps Noel, unsettled at the first mere mention of the L word.
“I guess I’m here doing my thing… I guess he’s out there [points out window] also doing my thing, and you know – never the twain shall meet.
“And he’s promoting my record… And I’m promoting my record, and I thank him for that. And you know, what can I say?”
Noel told Radio 4’s Front Row that he’ll “never walk the stage with Oasis again”, due to the behaviour of his brother and others on social media.
Gallagher Snr’s new direction will divide the fans and critics, who possess the power to send his album sales into orbit or not. Some will wanna be a spaceman with him more than others.
However in shooting for the moon, even if he misses, Noel is certain to land among the stars.
“There’s not a great deal that I strive for – except greatness, d’ya know what I mean?” he ponders.
“And not many of us get there. But the water’s good when you get there. It’s nice and warm.
“I take each day as it comes and live in the moment.
“But my story is only in the middle bit yet. Maybe when I get to the end I might walk around my shed in a smoking jacket dictating to my butler: ‘Tell them about the time i invented the Scissor Queen!'”
Who the built Moon is out on 24 November.
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