Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr [xrr rating=2.75/5] These days, being a Noel Gallagher fan means being something of an apologist. Any release or performance by the singer-songwriter is inevitably peppered with claims of either “worst since” or “best since” the heyday of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? And while that’s predictable and somewhat lazy, it’s also entirely fair. When one’s career has been so defined by early, astronomical success (and an attitude about it that might be kindly described as “self-satisfied”), any attempt at solo work is going to be looked at askance. So, does Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds stand up to scrutiny, coming from one of the most celebrated and self-congratulatory songwriters of a generation? Put simply: yes, if you expect to hear a distillation of latter-day Gallagher tunes; no, if you dared hope for any kind of artistic growth or daring. As the primary songwriter for Oasis, Gallagher long ago seemed to grow accustomed to a certain kind of songcraft; post-Be Here Now, the rockers generally became more careful, the anthems became a little more by the numbers and the lyrics…well, they stayed about what they always have been. Conversely, Gallagher’s skill as an arranger of songs has increased immensely, as has his ability to restrain his tendency to orchestral self-indulgence. High Flying Birds hits somewhere between, the 10 tracks included all have the tempo and attitude of classic rock music but the careful construction and deliberation and yes, sometimes dullness, of finely crafted pop. The finest tracks on the album, such as “If I Had A Gun…” and “Everybody’s On The Run,” are both what Gallagher has always done best: the soaring anthem. But in subtle ways, he does manage to occasionally change the formula a bit. The former anchors a wordless, sighing vocal refrain to a tense, nervous sounding electric guitar line and opens with the strangely nihilistic phrase “If I had a gun/ I’d shoot a hole into the sun/ And love would burn this city down for you.” In a songwriter known for his lyrical optimism, it’s a curiously sinister turn. For several of the other tracks (including “The Death of You and Me” and “Dream On”), he relies heavily on the pounding, Kinks-style guitar rhythm he’s been utilizing since Don’t Believe the Truth, though the occasional blast of clanking, rusty sounding horn sections add a startlingly welcome discordant element. The finest track on the album is apparently an unreleased track leftover from the Oasis days, “Stop the Clocks.” It’s Gallagher at his latter day finest, a simple organ line and acoustic guitar gently sharing an alternately wistful and forceful vocal. If High Flying Birds shows anything, it’s that Gallagher is comfortable with what kind of music he produces. He’s either unwilling or unable to shift his sound up at this point in the game, which is somewhat disappointing but also spares us the possible horror of a sudden zig into electronica or zag into spoken-word metal. As it is, his first solo album is a clear statement that while he’s not changing, the man can still write an anthem that makes you sit up in your seat.