Has Noel Gallagher Missed The Chance To Make A Great Solo Album?

Two years after Oasis' acrimonious split, the release of Noel Gallagher's debut solo album is imminent. But it remains to be seen if forty-something Noel can return to the kind of form that made him an icon?
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To understand how Noel's decision to go solo has come about, and why these questions are even being asked of the man that penned 'Live Forever' and 'The Masterplan', we need to take to look back in time at the later years of Oasis.

After releasing Heathen Chemistry in 2002, Oasis took a three-year break, before releasing Don’t Believe The Truth. The album was genuinely successful - it sold about as many copies as Heathen Chemistry and spawned a handful of hit singles. These included ‘The Importance of Being Idle’, which rightly takes its place in the pantheon as one of Oasis’ all-time great songs.

Except ‘The Importance of Being Idle’ doesn’t sound very much like an Oasis song, does it?  Nor does ‘Mucky Fingers’, another of the album’s strongest tracks, written and sung by Noel. They both differ in style significantly from everything we had heard from the band before. There’s nothing wrong with that; bands should mature and change direction. The problem is, it wasn’t the band changing direction – it was Noel. As for the rest of the band, if they were changing direction at all, it certainly wasn’t the same direction. Not only do these tracks not sound like Oasis, they don’t sound like anything else on Don’t Believe the Truth.

Don’t Believe the Truth is a collection of songs thrown together under the Oasis brand, but beyond that it is not identifiable as an Oasis record. Noel has hinted that the album should be seen as a commentary on the manic pace of urban life. This can almost be heard in Noel's tracks, but clearly it’s not something he mentioned to the rest of the band.

Three years later came Dig Out Your Soul. Again, while not quite as successful as its predecessor, the album fared reasonably well. But everything that was just said about Don’t Believe the Truth applies even more so to Dig Out Your Soul. Once again, it is a disjointed album, with Noel focusing on his own material, and the band-within-a-band of Liam, Gem Archer and Andy Bell likewise focusing on their stuff. Unfortunately, neither wing of the band was able to match the relative heights they had hit on Don’t Believe the Truth.

This album could have been Noel’s Stanley Road. Whether he’ll now reach the heights he could hypothetically have reached in the mid/late-2000s, assuming Oasis had been brought to a natural end in 2002, remains to be seen.

We can suppose that, fourteen years after the release of Definitely Maybe, the creative juices had finally dried up. However, there is another story here too. Dig Out Your Soul may or may not represent a band past their sell-by-date, but it is surely also the product of a band that nobody believes in any more. They weren’t producing as many great songs because they had no enthusiasm for what they were doing. The fact that Dig Out Your Soul in fact did contain great songs written by both Noel and Liam perhaps adds weight to this theory. ‘I’m Outta Time’ is probably Liam Gallagher’s finest moment as a composer; it probably didn’t get the recognition it deserved – which no doubt persuaded Liam, on some level, that as a songwriter he would never be able to escape the shadow of Noel as a member of Oasis.

Noel’s ‘Falling Down’ is the album’s most sublime moment – but it feels out of place on Dig Out Your Soul. In reviewing the album, Stephen Trousse of Uncut said “implausibly enough, this late in the day, [‘Falling Down’] is one of the best songs Noel’s ever written”. Fundamentally, neither Don’t Believe the Truth nor Dig Out Your Soul followed the Oasis formula for crafting songs: Noel Gallagher writing songs for his little brother to sing.

Oasis’ break-up has inevitably been interpreted as a very personal dispute between Noel and Liam, the latest twist in an argument they’ve been having since they were kids. I don’t buy it. Clearly they have had their wobbles over the years, but the idea that it was only after two decades in a band together that the personal issues finally became bigger than the band, is far-fetched. The great irony of Oasis – who have been more like a soap opera than a band, and who lost credibility as musicians a long time ago in most people’s eyes – is that their break-up is due largely to musical differences.

Since the split, Liam has given the world Beady Eye, but Noel promises something slightly more sophisticated with his first post-Oasis release. At the same time, it's still hard to shake the feeling that Noel has missed his chance to make a great solo record. The folky electronica direction that he took on the later Oasis albums, and 2007 single 'Lord Don't Slow Me Down', largely without the support of his then band-mates, surely represented the ideal moment for a Noel Gallagher album. This album could have been Noel’s Stanley Road. Whether he’ll now reach the heights he could hypothetically have reached in the mid/late-2000s, assuming Oasis had been brought to a natural end in 2002, remains to be seen.

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