New Reels: ‘Riverman’ by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

This week we take a look at the latest single from the ex-Oasis man’s Chasing Yesterday album and ask if his music entertains as much as his interviews.

It’s hard to know what to make of Noel Gallagher. I mean, is he a chancer, a journeyman who wrote most of his best songs 20 years ago and has used the reputation gained in those years to surf a long wave of mediocrity ever since? Or is he in fact one of Britain’s greatest living songwriters, a national treasure and ever-present guardian of a good, honest, down-to-earth musical aesthetic?

What we can say with certainty is that he’s definitely one of Britain’s greatest interviewees, savagely witty and withering when it comes to much of modern pop music. To be honest his interviews are often more entertaining than his actual records which have a tendency to plod a little, to feel a little too earnest; well crafted but lacking some sort of essential spark that might elevate it. It’s the difference between him and someone like, say, Neil Young who can’t help but put that spark in to pretty much everything he does.

With that in mind though I have to say I enjoyed this, the latest cut from the album Chasing Yesterday, more than I thought I would. Which isn’t to say I was blown away or anything, but it was pleasant. The video itself induces the same feeling, and features Noel sat strumming his guitar interspersed with shots of, well, stuff. Just things happening that don’t seem to add up to anything meaningful. And in a way that’s kind of like the song too. The lyrics are sort of about something, a girl who electrifies storms and a rainbows end or something. I’m not sure. It’s all a bit empty. It happens, and then it’s over. I didn’t not enjoy it. I probably won’t play it again.

And here for me is where the problem lies. Noel Gallagher began his career making music that mattered, that said something to people. I’m not talking about his lyrics which in truth have always been fairly trite, but rather the energy and swagger of those early Oasis tunes which made such an indelible impact on British culture. They embodied a cockiness, an innate sense of their own all-conquering vitality. ‘Live Forever’ and ‘Wonderwall’ were life affirming. It might seem a bit unfair to constantly hold Noel up to the standards he set back then but the pulse-quickening energy of those songs is exactly what this lacks. And it’s a shame because if Noel could imbue his records with some of the cheeky irreverence of his interviews they would probably be a great deal more interesting than they actually are.

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