Oasis were always at their most thrilling when they were at their most rudimentary. The visceral in-your-face blast of ‘Supersonic’, the relentless, scuzzy noise of ‘Columbia’ and ‘Slide Away’, the guileless simplicity of ‘Songbird’, the blatant theft of ‘Shakermaker’, ‘Whatever’, ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ and so many more.
The truth is that for all the comparisons made by those who should have known better, both in and out the band, Oasis weren’t really like The Beatles. They just really liked The Beatles – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
So when they tried to experiment, they didn’t really innovate the way John, Paul, George and Ringo (and George Martin) did. Instead, they made do with playing with some backwards tape (‘D’You Know What I Mean’), drum loops (‘Go Let It Out’), and superficial psychedelic sheen (‘Who Feels Love’ and ‘To Be Where There’s Life’).
Their greatest departure from the Oasis sound was the sample-laden instrumental ‘Fuckin’ in the Bushes’ that opened the unloved Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. The track was used as a live intro tape for the band for a few years, but didn’t really rub off on the rest of the album or the three that followed before the group’s eventual split.
So Noelrock and Dadrock effectively became interchangeable terms. Guitar, bass, drums, vocals. Meat. Potatoes. Chug chug chug. And Noel absolutely didn’t (and doesn’t) help himself with his old-man-yells-at-sky pronouncements about pop, hip-hop and the rest of the modern world.
Still, it wasn’t entirely fair. Noel was a child of Acid House. He picked A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’ as one of his Desert Island Discs amid the usual suspects (Beatles/Pistols/Smiths). Maybe just as striking, he also opted for David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ rather than anything from …Ziggy Stardust… or Hunky Dory.
Given the right collaborators, Noel proved that he was capable of something genuinely experimental. Written and recorded with The Chemical Brothers and released in late 1996, ‘Setting Sun’ is one of the weirdest, noisiest and best number one singles of the decade.
Sure, it borrowed heavily from ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, but rather than just nicking from or nodding at The Beatles the way Oasis did on songs like ‘She’s Electric’, ‘Setting Sun’ sounded almost as groundbreaking as the band who inspired it.
They repeated the trick in 1999 with ‘Let Forever Be’, but Oasis themselves never picked up that thread. The Noel-sung final single ‘Falling Down’ was the closest they got, even being offered up for some remixes, but by then the group was pretty much done.
When Noel finally pulled the plug on the band in 2009 and went solo, there was the suggestion that he was always itching to expand his musical horizons. That it was Oasis – and his boorish luddite brother Liam in particular – who were holding him back.
Noel launched his solo career with a press conference in July 2011, announcing that he’d already recorded his debut album Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds with Dave Sardy, and that he’d also pretty much finished its follow-up, a collaboration with the Amorphous Androgynous.
Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans, also known as ’90s dance superstars The Future Sound Of London, already had history with Noel. The duo had released an epic remix of ‘Falling Down’ back in 2009.
“We turned it into a 22-minute mini-album,” Garry told Teletext at the time. “Halfway in, we wondered ‘What if they only wanted a five-minute mix?’. But Noel gave it its own 12” format, its own artwork.
“Liam loved it too. He came up to me, hand on his heart, saying, ‘I’ve got you to thank for making me look at music in a new way’. I’d never met him before!”
For his part, Noel wrote on his now defunct Oasis blog: “I fully expect 50% of you not to have the attention span to deal with something like that but the rest of you, I hope, will be blown away. It’s a staggering piece of music. Monumental even. All superlatives will apply.”
But despite their previous success, the new project was almost immediately put in doubt. Industry insider Peter Cornish-Barlow reported that Noel had run off to Los Angeles because his team weren’t keen on the collaboration.
“No-one, apart from Noel likes the reworked material AA have done! Its causing problems in camp, so I am told,” he said on Twitter. “Also the feeling is that he won’t get his way, and he will most likely [release] the album that did the rounds last year!
Later that year though, Noel was still talking up the record for a 2012 release. “It sounds a bit like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The sound is similar to High Flying Birds, but more psychedelic and tripped out,” he told Spin. “It’s not an electronic project. People are jumping to that conclusion because Amorphous Androgynous used to be an electronic outfit.”
A month on, he was dialling it back, but only a little. “A lot of people are looking forward to it, which I’m a bit nervous about,” he told the Daily Star of the album. “They’re building it up in their own minds, thinking it’s going to be something it might not be when they hear it. It’s fucking good, but I probably shouldn’t have announced it. But I just thought, ‘It’s finished, so fuck it, here’s what I’ve been working on’.”
When he was heckled about the record at a gig around that time, Noel admitted from the Roundhouse stage that the album was still being tweaked. “Well, I haven’t finished it. Would you buy it unfinished? Really, for a tenner?” he asked. “Give us your fucking address. I’ll send you a shit demo if you give me a tenner, yeah? Anybody else? Fucking hell, it’s the quickest two grand I’ve ever made!”
The first we heard of the collaboration was ‘Shoot A Hole In The Sun’, a remix of ‘If I Had A Gun’, which was tacked on to single ‘Dream On’ as a B-side. Meanwhile, the album was still being spoken about, with Noel suggesting it would finally be ready for 2013.
“I’ve got a break in the middle of this tour in July, so now the plan is to do something then, and then to finish it off after the tour in October,” he told NME in February 2012. “So it might come out at the end of the year, but it’s more likely to be next year now. I set the benchmark pretty high with this record, and I’m not just putting [out] a record for the fucking sake of it. At the moment it’s not a great record – so it won’t come out until it is.”
An Amorphous Androgynous remix of ‘AKA… What A Life!’ emerged as the B-side of ‘Everybody’s On The Run’, but a month later we got the first whispering from Noel that the album itself might be shelved altogether.
“It was supposed to be delivered the night I did that press conference and I hadn’t been involved in any of the mixing at that point due to being busy with other things,” Noel told The Sun that August.
“Anyway, it was a toss-up whether to announce it in the first place, but I just thought fuck it, I’ve done it, let’s announce it. But since then I’ve been on the road and because of that I’ve not been in the mixing, and I’m not happy with any of the mixes.
“They’re going backward and forward so then the plan was to get mixing done after the tour, but this tour has gone on so long that there’s been no time, and that means looking at it next year. But by then I fear the moment may have passed.”
After that, everything went pretty quiet for a couple of years. Noel then suddenly stirred the pot in early 2015, again complaining about the AA mixes of the album.
“Initially when they delivered [the first mix of the album], they managed to pull off the trick of recording the quietest CD of all time,” Gallagher told the NME. “When I got it I couldn’t hear it and was like, ‘Is it broke?’.
“For all the great ideas on it, I was in the middle of a tour, that last album had blown up, the mixes weren’t right. And by the time I got back off tour I was just like, ‘I’m not fucking putting out another record, I can’t be arsed’. I was frazzled and had glandular fever. I was fucked.”
Apart from the two remixes that came out as B-sides, the only things Noel salvaged from the sessions were ‘The Mexican’ and ‘The Right Stuff’, which he reworked it for his second album Chasing Yesterday.
“‘The Right Stuff’ in this record is vastly different from the first one, which had a lot of noodling and fucking about,” Noel said. “It’s become quite psychedelic, jazz, fucking whatever you wanna call it.”
Having held their piece, Amorphous Androgynous finally piped up. Initially, they were pretty conciliatory. Complimentary even.
“He still fascinates me. He’s a great untapped source,” Garry said to musicfeeds of Noel. “The only thing holding him back is himself.
“He constantly talks about how he’s ‘long accepted his limitations’ but I don’t really believe that… If he placed more faith and trust in himself, Noel could reap magic.”
Soon after, Cobain was a bit more prickly about the whole thing – ultimately suggesting that Noel “became too afraid to be weird”.
“He has been asked about our album a lot, and his rebuttal of it is a disgrace,” he told The Guardian. “It’s doing me a lot of damage.”
Garry said that the sessions had “started out promisingly” and that Noel came into the project “with all the right intentions” but added that things didn’t work out, now agreeing that he had to work around Noel’s “limitations”.
“We tried to force him to write new material. But he dragged his heels and failed to stretch himself,” he said. “We had kids’ choirs, harpsichords, mandolins. We really went to town with orchestras and all sorts of crazy instrumentation. He just needed to cut the pie to suit Noel the solo artist.”
He added: “I believe ours is the album people wanted him to make – a liberated, exploratory Noel Gallagher, cutting loose from Oasis, enjoying his freedom; the Noel who name-drops our Monstrous Bubble albums and krautrock, and who had hits with the Chemical Brothers. He obviously loves that kind of music, but has no idea how to make it.”
Noel, inevitably, hit back. “The album got finished,” Gallagher told Noisey. “We spent a lot of time working on it, but the way that they work is that they get me in and I play all day then they take it away.
“Then the next thing you hear, you go, ‘Well, that’s not what I was thinking’. It became apparent that they weren’t making a record for me but I was making a record for them. You know me, that’s not going to fucking work.”
He added: “There’s no bootleg because I own the master and I destroyed it. My manager’s not even heard it. I wouldn’t play it. It was so underwhelming to me that I never played it to anybody.
“I’m not going to put records out to please people and their imagination, then they hear it and go, ‘Actually, it’s a bit shit’. I know it’s shit that’s why it’s not coming out and that’s the end of it.”
And for a while, it was.
It’s tempting to wonder if after (re-)establishing himself as an arena-filling rockstar with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Noel felt there was just too much to risk with an album that might well turn off half his fanbase.
To be fair though, while he’s not gone full psychedelic freakout, he’s consciously been trying to push on since then. Chasing Yesterday had its moments – especially those AA remnants – and even had its own remix album.
Noel chucked the whole kitchen sink at follow-up Who Built The Moon? There were waves of different instruments (brass, strings, keyboards, Rhodes piano, organ, tin whistle), a couple of handfuls of female backing vocalists, and guest spots from two past trad-rockers-turned-experimentalists (Johnny Marr and Paul Weller). Most importantly, it was produced by David Holmes.
“David’s whole thing was, ‘You can sit there for the rest of your life with an acoustic guitar and do what you do and you’re the best at it and no one will argue. But you know, why don’t you try something different?’,” Noel told i-D, making Holmes’s pitch sound an awful lot like Garry Cobain’s from a few years earlier.
“Do we wear the same clothes every day? No. Do we get dressed up to go out? Yeah. Do you like fancy dress parties? I fucking hate them but it’s a thing. So it’s like, why make the same fucking record every few years?”
It was as though he’d finally recorded the album that he was supposed to have made with Amorphous Androgynous half a decade earlier. On a few moments, it all came together. ‘Holy Mountain’ in particular was an enthralling, squalling racket that saw Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ in a head-on collision with, er, Ricky Martin’s ‘She Bangs’.
That said, overall the ambition definitely outweighed the execution, and it’s striking that the album’s very best song, and maybe Noel’s best moment since the ’90s, was the album’s bonus track/coda – a stripped-down-to-nothing performance of ‘Dead in the Water’ recorded live for Irish radio with zero bells or (tin) whistles.
After that Noel kept pushing, probably too hard. His trio of EPs in 2019-20 (Black Star Dancing, This Is The Place and Blue Moon Rising) added up to much less than the sum of their shuffling parts, despite the open mind, danceable rhythms and smattering of remixes.
At the same time, Noel was taking not entirely unjustified shots at just how by-the-book his younger brother’s suddenly successful solo work was.
“I think it’s unsophisticated music. For unsophisticated people,” Noel told The Guardian. “Made by an unsophisticated man. Who’s giving unsophisticated orders to a load of songwriters who think they’re doing the Oasis thing.”
He wasn’t throwing his past work or past fans under the bus. “You can turn the Marshall amp up to 12 all you want and do a bit of glam, but Oasis’s words were about including people, everyone in it together. And what I hear from him is just a load of bile… angry nonsense.”
Between Who Built The Moon? and his trio of EPs, Noel had nudged open the door to the idea that the Amorphous Androgynous album could one day be heard.
“I did find a copy of it recently in a sock draw,” Gallagher told Matt Morgan when asked about the lost album during a YouTube interview 2018. “The masters, somebody has them, the masters have not been destroyed – but it won’t be coming out any time soon.
“It might be nice to go back and revisit it in years to come, because ‘Shoot A Hole Into The Sun’ is fucking great and there might be more stuff like that in there. Best to give it a bit of distance though I think. It just wasn’t right for the time.”
More recently he told Record Collector: “That’s one regret I have, that thing never being fully realised. I credit them, along with David Holmes, with opening a lot of musical doors for me, music I would never have heard of.
“Gaz is great… We ended up making it at Weller’s studio. The days would start off with a lecture about psychedelic rock and reverb.”
He added: “We’d finished the recording and they’d had it for two months to mix. I was having a press conference and I wanted to announced it. ‘It’s not ready. It’ll be ready the night before. Promise.’ It gets to the night before – nothing. The morning of – nothing.
“So, like an idiot, I just thought, ‘How can shit can it be?’ I’ll just announce it’. Two days later I get it and I’m like, ‘Woah, no fucking way, man. This is not gonna be my fucking debut album. No fucking way!’.
“We tried to make the best of it and then I slowly went off the idea and was like, ‘You know what? Let’s not fucking don the wizard’s hat first time out. Let’s do this gradually’. I think it would have been too much.”
Despite some differences of opinion, Garry still hasn’t ruled out the idea of some sort of release one day, having plenty to say about the whole affair to the NME in 2021. Speaking then, he brushed off any suggestion that the masters were at risk of being either destroyed or drowned in odd socks.
“He hasn’t destroyed the masters because I’ve got them, haven’t I?” he said. “Of course! How has the producer who made the record alone in a room for 18 months and only worked directly with Noel for three weeks not have the masters?”
Cobain made it clear he “wouldn’t release somebody else’s music because he’s paid for it” but hinted that he might well still be tinkering with the recordings.
He also rejected the idea that he and Dougans were always making an AA album on the sly (“I couldn’t be more co-operative if I fucking tried”), and said that they and Noel were “buzzing” creatively despite the odd argument.
Garry also said he and Noel were on okay terms and expressed regret that the project was binned just before the final mixing (“It wouldn’t have taken that much more of a relationship”).
“There was some art, it for to almost being finished and I think it’s a real fucking shame,” he said. “It’s still sitting there and it’s still extraordinary. I think people would love to hear it.”