While Liam Gallagher went for a back to basics approach on his recent debut solo album, his older brother and former Oasis bandmate, Noel decided he wanted to go in the complete opposite direction. After Noel’s ambitious collaboration with psychedelic producers, Amorphous Androgynous was scrapped and later became his second album, Chasing Yesterday, producer David Holmes talked Noel into releasing a new record of similar shock value.
Who Built The Moon? is Noel Gallagher’s third solo album and as soon as the album teaser was released, it began splitting opinions and raising question marks. This head-scratching continued after Noel’s recent appearance on Later With Jools Holland that featured a French musician playing a pair of scissors. As it turns out, Noel claimed this was just another attempt to wind up his Twitter-loving, younger brother, Liam, and he definitely succeeded as Liam then tried to one-up him with a potato-peeling spectator at his gig. As Liam’s new album, As You Were, received generally favourable reviews, Noel sat on the sidelines and criticized Liam’s use of co-songwriters by declaring that Liam’s record sounds like “Adele shouting into a bucket.” Now it’s Noel’s turn in the limelight as fans will be anxious to see how his new record measures up.
Before praising Noel for deliberately attempting to shake off those “parka monkey” fans by releasing an experimental, risk-filled record, let’s examine just how experimental the record really is. The record opens with Fort Knox, a piece of epic, alarm clock psychedelia with Indian-influenced strings and just a handful of lyrics, which are repeated like a sacred mantra. This definitely isn’t the Noel Gallagher that fans have come to know and love, but after several listens, you may just start to buy into this weird and wacky new direction. Next is another single, Holy Mountain, a horn-centric record with vocal melodies that could easily trick some into thinking they’re listening to a Vaccines record. The track won’t connect with most listeners after one spin, but it’s definitely a grower. The bold kick drum and keyboard intro of Keep On Reaching is unexpected and so are the soulful vocals and the funky instrumentation that follow. Plus, it’s easily the most vocally challenging track from Noel that we’ve heard in a while. It’s A Beautiful World is the last of the three singles and its muffled vocal effects work well with the electronic percussion, cosmic keyboards, and French, female vocals.
She Taught Me How To Fly is where things start getting iffy. Though there are moments of anthemic vocal brilliance “so put your money where your mouth is”, “it doesn’t matter what your name is”, the instrumentation really makes it sound like a Chasing Yesterday deep cut. Be Careful What You Wish For is a hypnotic stomper with a fairly sparse sound compared to some of the other songs in the tracklisting and it’s the most effective use of female backing vocals on the album. However, it’s the polar opposite of a sing-along track and I can imagine many fans pressing skip when this song comes on. Black And White Sunshine is another return to the typical rock and roll set-up of guitars, vocals, and drums and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the experimental instrumentation and song structures on this record are almost exclusively restricted to the album’s first few tracks. Having said that, Black And White Sunshine has strong lead vocals, but along with She Taught Me How To Fly, its simplistic lyrics are just as glaring as the striking vocal delivery.
Interlude (Wednesday, Pt. 1) initially features just acoustic guitar, drums, and bass, which are later adorned with bright synths, but the instrumental track adds nothing of substance to the record and it’s a bit puzzling to think why it was included. If Love Is The Law is Noel’s first major misfire on the vocal melody front and even a tasty harmonica solo and jingle bell outro can’t propel him out of the ditch he just dug for himself. The Man Who Built The Moon contains the best keyboards on the record with its creepy, slithering synths and its narrative-style lyrics finally trigger some lyrical intrigue and mystery “Make room for the man who built the moon / He arrived on a maggot horse”. The album’s final track, End Credits (Wednesday, Pt. 2) is much more compelling than “Interlude” with its celestial keyboards and though it’s a strong closer, it’s hard to forgive or forget the incoherent nature of the tracklisting.
Who Built The Moon? was billed as Noel’s experimental venture into spaced-out, electronic, psychedelic pop, but what we actually got was far from it. Unfortunately, the most psychedelic, experimental bits on the record are the tracks that were already released as singles Fort Knox, Holy Mountain, It’s A Beautiful World. You can’t help but wonder what the record would’ve sounded like if the musical sideshow quality of his singles overflowed into the rest of these tracks. The remainder of the record shows obvious remnants of his first two albums. A lot of horns reappear from his second album and the vocal style adopted on tracks like Black and White Sunshine and The Man Who Built The Moon would fit in perfectly on his self-titled debut album. Despite the fact that there’s a quintessential Noel sound on many of the tracks, several of them work The Man Who Built The Moon, Black And White Sunshine and several of them that don’t If Love Is The Law, Be Careful What You Wish For.
While David Holmes production style is well suited to Noel’s songs, the album’s disjointed concept is what largely mars this record. It feels like we saw a trailer for film with intense action scenes and then showed up to see it, only to find that those were the only action scenes and the rest of the film was filled with slapstick comedy. Some fans will love this record and some fans will hate it, but overall, it’s an inconsistent album and a missed opportunity to create something genuinely special and different.