When Oasis taped an MTV Unplugged performance in 1996, it wasn’t meant to be Noel Gallagher’s first solo album. But the stripped-down set was exactly that, an unintended classic that put the band’s songwriter and part-time lead singer front and center.
By that point, Oasis was one of the biggest bands in the world and it never let the press forget it. In interviews and on stage, Noel and younger brother Liam, the group’s brash frontman, were a strained pair at best and a spiteful sideshow at worst, toward the public as much as themselves. Still, their erratic, often ugly relationship seemed to feed beauty into the music the brothers created together, and at no time was this more apparent than in 1996, when songs like “Wonderwall,” “Champagne Supernova,” and “Don’t Look Back In Anger” dominated U.K. and U.S. radio. So when Liam complained of a sore throat hours before that MTV show, it was up to Noel to lead the band while his brother looked on smugly from the rafters.
Things came to a head in 2009 when Noel left Oasis, a move that only perpetuated a sibling quarrel in the form of independent (if not competing) solo projects: Noel formed High Flying Birds, while Liam, not to be outdone, founded Beady Eye with former Oasis bandmates. Noel’s first, self-titled record was his exercise in proving that there was indeed life outside of his old group. It recalled familiar pop hooks and was as straightforward a departure-type rock record could be without alienating those still holding out for an Oasis reunion.
Chasing Yesterday, Gallagher’s second album, ventures into psychedelic love songs, but what stands out is how he taps more into imagery and storytelling than ever before. “The Girl With the X-Ray Eyes” and “The Dying of the Light” reflect an intense grace and yearning and desperation not only in his voice, but in his poetry. The balance comes with a song like “Ballad of Mighty I,” with its emphasis on piano and a charging, ’80s rhythm, that sounds far removed from the music that inspired the last 20-plus years of his writing.
Gallagher continues to churn out readymade singles, and ties them all together here in a coherent love letter. But he’s still bitter; he recently called making and producing this record “a pain in the arse.” It sounds like it was worth it.