Review: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – ‘If I Had a Gun’

ifihadagunTwo years ago this week Noel Gallagher pulled the plug on what can only be described as a British institution. Walking out on Oasis after reaching the final straw with Liam put an end to a band that soundtracked the Nineties and touched the lives of millions.

Many relished the prospect of a Noel Gallagher solo album and saw it as a healthy change of circumstance that was well overdue. Liam and the remaining members of Oasis hadn’t even finished their first pint after the breakup before deciding to carry on making music. Beady Eye were a breath of fresh air and on the whole have surpassed expectations, but not quite blown us away just yet.

Noel on the other hand took a step out of the public eye and let the dust settle. It hasn’t really settled at all and it probably never will, but he couldn’t spend the rest of his life queuing up in Waitrose, and the announcement of his long awaited return was met with both delirium and relief.

First single ‘The Death Of You and Me‘ was a reassuring, confident slice of Kinks-inspired pop with a twist that nobody saw coming – trumpets. Noel himself admitted he wanted to come back with a whisper rather than a bang and that’s just what he did, which raised the bar even higher for this, the second track to be premiered from the debut album. This had to be the one that officially declared Noel’s return on the main stage as one of the best songwriters of his generation. The song which has been cherry picked from’ Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds‘ album to take on this job is ‘If I Had a Gun‘.

The track is one of the most anticipated among diehard fans; ever since a clip of an acoustic, soundcheck version of the song appeared on the internet two years ago, forums have been buzzing with discussion as to what its fate would be. Now we know the answer, and what a mountain of pressure to bestow on a track that already sounded epic enough when stripped down to its bare bones in an empty hall. So, just how good is the finished product?

It sneaks up on you in a similar vein to Ryan Adams’ take on ‘Wonderwall‘. A dark, moody and beautifully haunting beginning is led into Noel’s powerfully emotive vocal. “If I had a gun, I’d shoot a hole into the sun..” he pleads with a fragile quality in his voice. The song then bursts at the seams and explodes with electric guitars, taking on a lease of life that is surprisingly more grandiose than many who had heard the acoustic soundcheck version may have predicted.

The bridge is made of the stuff that had you gobsmacked with disbelief at the sheer magic of Oasis’ earlier material. The moment Noel sings “Excuse me if I spoke to soon”, you know it’s game over – Noel has channelled the ilk of songwriting prowess that only comes around once in a while for him these days.

It sounds huge without conforming to the criteria of a standard stadium anthem, void of a shouty chorus, rather a dreamy hymn that gives it more class than the likes of 2002’s ‘Little By Little‘. Despite encompassing a big sound, the tender nature of its chorus shares more in common with ‘Waiting For The Rapture‘ than the lung bursting ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger‘. He’s not quite thrown the kitchen sink at it and for that reason it doesn’t get lost in the extravagant production that spoilt some damn fine moments on Oasis’ ‘Be Here Now‘.

It’s a love song that’s underpinned with melancholy and a desperate feeling of hope. It is a balance he achieved with the likes of ‘Wonderwall’ – which is not to say ‘If I Had a Gun’ is as good. It can’t be ignored that despite ticking all the boxes, this electric take on the song does lack a tiny bit of the appeal in the raw, moving, live acoustic rendition that had been doing the rounds on the internet. Live performances will no doubt recapture that sound and this is just a minor criticism of a song that outweighs any flaws with its soaring melodies.

If there are more tracks on the ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ album which match the quality of ‘If I Had a Gun’ then we are in for quite a treat. Whispers in the industry suggest he’s come up with something quite special – and that’s not just from the man himself.

Noel might never write songs as good as the ones which poured out of him in the Nineties but, as evident on this new single, he will always have it in him to give us glimmers of that magic, and still occasionally succeed in evoking those feelings with his songwriting in a way he used to.

‘If I Had A Gun’ is a reminder of what made us fall in love with his songs in the first place, and it looks like it might just happen all over again.

(Matt Humphrey)


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