Noel Gallagher (Lawrence Watson )
"No one told me Neil Young recorded here!" Noel Gallagher exclaimed, standing amid stuffed polar bears and ornate Italianate antiques in the grand room of the Paramour. The Silver Lake mansion is where Young made "Le Noise," and it's where Gallagher shot his music video in August for "If I Had a Gun…," the first U.S. single off his solo debut, "High Flying Birds," released Tuesday.
Gallagher is both an apt pupil of rock history and a part of it: He rose to fame in the '90s as the guitarist and songwriter for Oasis, penning hits like "Wonderwall" and "Champagne Supernova" that transformed the Britpop group from Manchester, England, into superstars, selling more than 70 million albums worldwide. On the flip side of that fame was a sibling rivalry that provided endless tabloid fodder. The fisticuffs, press taunting and onstage blowouts between Gallagher and the band's frontman, his younger brother Liam, became the stuff of rock legend.
Despite the constant friction, Oasis continued to perform together until August 2009, when an alleged backstage altercation between the siblings before a Paris concert sounded the group's death knell. Apart, the Gallaghers supplied more grist for the gossip mill. Liam entered the fray first, forming the group Beady Eye and released "Different Gear, Still Speeding" — a successful if tepidly reviewed effort that came out in March.
At a July news conference, Noel announced his own solo plans and then claimed Liam canceled a high-profile festival appearance because he was hung over (and not from laryngitis as his brother claimed). The younger Gallagher immediately responded with threats of a lawsuit. "If people are interested in the music, great," Noel said. "As for the stuff that's going on around all that — really, if you're getting your information from the British press, be wary.
Media circus aside, Noel seemed unsure about how he'd be received as a solo artist: "A Noel Gallagher audience — what is that?" he wondered aloud in "It's Never Too Late to Be What U Might Have Been," a documentary about the making of "High Flying Birds." The numbers, however, reveal that Noel does indeed have a following (and holds a leading edge over his brother). His album received three times the number of Amazon pre-orders than Beady Eye's LP and sold nearly double the copies in the U.K. its first week out. The first night of Noel's two-day performance at UCLA's Royce Hall on Nov. 17-18 has already sold out.
Also, Noel Gallagher's single, "If I Had a Gun…," has made inroads at influential radio stations like L.A.'s KROQ-FM (106.7). "The response from commercial radio has been really positive," explains KROQ music director Lisa Worden. "Oasis' songs remain really big library tracks for the station, but Noel having new music on KROQ exposes him to younger listeners."
"Between us and KROQ, there's lots of support," notes Sky Daniels, a revered music-industry figure and current program director for KCSN-FM (88.5), where Gallagher's new material is in power rotation. "I'm always trying to find new music from '90s heroes — and in the case of Noel's record, I was blown away."
According to Nic Harcourt, the L.A. radio tastemaker who currently broadcasts a show on KCSN, Gallagher has reached new levels of respectability. "In the '90s, you heard Oasis between Soundgarden and Pearl Jam," Harcourt says. "Now you'll hear Noel Gallagher next to Tom Waits and Laura Marling." That's reflected in renewed critical acclaim: U.K. newspaper the Guardian raved that "High Flying Birds" represents some of Gallagher's "best tunes in 15 years."
The album also breaks new artistic ground for Gallagher. While he has guested on club grooves by the Chemical Brothers, Gallagher has never written a dance floor track of his own — until now. "My wife said, 'There's no getting around it — this is disco,'" Gallagher said of his track "AKA … What a Life!" off of the new CD. "It made me slightly uneasy: It's a dance song, and I can't dance. But once I got used to it, I decided it's one of the best things I've ever done."
Elsewhere, Gallagher's solo material evokes Oasis in the best way. "AKA … Broken Arrow" recalls the irresistible psychedelic hooks of "Wonderwall"; with its chunky riffs and chanted chorus, "Dream On" suggests "Morning Glory"-era stompers like "Roll With It."
The parallels make sense considering much of the material on "High Flying Birds was written years ago when he was still in Oasis. "I've been hearing some of these songs for years," says Dave Sardy, the studio guru who co-produced "High Flying Birds." "Noel's got stuff tucked away from when he wrote 'Wonderwall.'"
Gallagher and Sardy did significant recording for the album in L.A., holing up at Sunset Sound for sessions. "'Led Zeppelin II' was done there, and 'Riders on the Storm,'" Gallagher marvels. "I've grown to love California: It's the dream of every English musician to come here and work in the sunshine. To walk up Sunset Boulevard, knowing you're going to make music — that's it.
"Even though I'm older, I haven't lost the sense of wonder of writing songs," he says. "I don't think I ever will. It's all me, isn't it? I'm can't sack myself — although that day will come, believe you me!"