Who Built the Moon? deserves to be commended for its fearlessness.
Since he disbanded Oasis in 2009, Noel Gallagher has done everything he can to disassociate himself from the band that made him an international superstar. While his loquacious brother has, both with a new band and as a solo performer, tried to will the glory years back into existence, Noel has used the end of Oasis as an opportunity to explore new ideas and concepts that he likely wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. So far, though, his work with the High Flying Birds has been defined by a sort of failed grandiosity; he strives to reach for the stars, yet his compositions are largely enjoyable without ever really soaring. Who Built the Moon? doesn’t quite change this in terms of songwriting, but it is easily the strangest, most ambitious project that Gallagher has ever put together.
There are several superficial changes that come with Who Built the Moon?, but the most important change might be in Gallagher’s attitude. His earlier efforts with High Flying Birds had a po-faced seriousness to them, as if he was overcorrecting from years of rock-star swagger in the most singer-songwriter-y way possible. Who Built the Moon?, by contrast, has elements of the mad scientist to it. Gallagherl and producer David Holmes appear to be throwing whatever they can into the mix to see what works. The album veers from glam-rock (the stomping “Holy Mountain”) to neo-psychedelia (“It’s a Beautiful World”) to flourishes of electronica (“Fort Knox”). There’s a variety here only hinted at on previous Gallagher projects, and for the first time in years, it sounds like Noel Gallagher is enjoying himself.
That said, for all of its grand ambitions, Who Built the Moon? doesn’t quite have the songs to match its high ideas. Listening to the album is an absolutely thrilling experience in the moment, but it fades from memory shortly afterwards. Most of the songs play like five-minute-long experiments that work, but they lack the real lasting impact inherent in his best work. Aside from single “If Love is the Law” and the scissor-featuring “She Taught Me How to Fly,” not much of the album really works as pop songs. Yet, unlike his previous albums, this issue has more to do with Gallagher’s ambition than anything else. Given the drastic changes he makes to how he writes songs here, it would make sense that he would have some growing pains while adapting his decidedly earth-bound way of songwriting to his more stratospheric ambitions.
For all of the album’s flaws, Who Built the Moon? deserves to be commended for its fearlessness. Especially in light of his brother’s attempt to regain commercial relevance with music that has deliberately tapped in to Britpop nostalgia, the elder Gallagher’s insistence on doing literally anything but that is refreshing. Who Built the Moon? has an ambition and drive far greater than one would expect from a 50 year-old man who could easily live off of “Wonderwall” royalty checks for the rest of his life. Noel Gallagher’s solo career so far has been about being taken seriously as an artist, and Who Built the Moon?, for all of its faults, posits this as an idea not nearly as far-fetched as one would think.