Noel Gallagher has always been a man with big ideas. Some of his less-charitable detractors would point out that those ideas aren’t always exclusively his, but they’re big nonetheless. While his former Oasis compatriots seemed content to bang out Sixties-inspired arena rock for eternity, Noel’s appreciation for the pop song and its many variations has helped him remain an interesting figure in pop music. While his first album under his High Flying Birds moniker wasn’t a resounding success, it was encouraging in many ways; Noel seemed freer than he had ever been, able to write measured, focused songs that wouldn’t have necessarily worked in the context of a rock band. Chasing Yesterday finds Noel continuing down this path while adding more grandiose flourishes. It’s an album that sounds big, but the songs don’t quite live up to the presentation.

It’s a bit reductive to call Gallagher’s sound “retro,” but there’s definitely something about Chasing Yesterday that recalls music’s past more than its future. Noel isn’t necessarily an old fogy, though. While his songs are steeped in tradition, they’re not exactly reverent. Even when he’s quoting his beloved Beatles on “Riverman,” there’s a wryness to Noel’s intentions that wasn’t always there before, particularly on the stylistically rigid late-period Oasis albums. Noel’s arrangements are freer and more intricate on Chasing Yesterday, as well: saxophones and Mellotrons are peppered on various songs. If nothing else, Noel Gallagher has become an assured, confident composer here, and the defiantly classic sound he pursues here suits him very well.

Unfortunately, it also makes for a fairly monochromatic listen. For all of the skill that Noel demonstrates on Chasing Yesterday, his songs still lack a certain dynamic quality. That was fine in his early years, when the passion of others could elevate his weakest material, but it becomes painfully obvious here when Noel just isn’t that invested in something. Moments of Chasing Yesterday, such as the twin mid-album dirges, “The Dying of the Light” and “The Right Stuff,” sound as if Noel is performing while half-asleep. (Granted, his ever-relaxed singing delivery doesn’t help things.) When placed alongside some of the album’s livelier moments, like the buoyant “We Can’t Go Back,” these slower songs only serve to highlight the album’s flaws and the one real problem with Gallagher’s new project in general: with two albums down, Noel still can’t quite figure out what his focus with the High Flying Birds is. The raw material is all here, but Noel still seems unsure about how to mix it all together.

As with his self-titled solo debut, Noel Gallagher proves himself to be quite the craftsman on Chasing Yesterday. However, it still seems as if these solo records are little more than a rote exercise for Gallagher’s considerable skills. It’s an example of craft without passion, a collection of pretty good songs written and released for the sake of doing so and not much else.

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