Anyone expecting a Noel Gallagher/David Holmes collaboration to be some radical, genre-bending departure from The Usual is in for a disappointment from the off. Opener ‘Fort Knox’ is a largely instrumental, quasi-Big Beat plod with Holmes throwing the kitchen sink in whilst Gallagher and the backing singers sing “I keep holding on” and “You gotta get yourself together” and an alarm clock goes off in the background. Whilst in Gallagherworld this might be a musical revolution on a par with ‘The Rite of Spring’, ‘Mystery Train’ or ‘Autobahn’, it sounds rather dated to the rest of us, as quintessentially 1990s as Kevin Keegan getting pissed on Hooper’s Hooch with Menswear in an Irish theme pub.
But whilst Holmes hasn’t exactly dragged Noel into the 21st century just yet, he’s certainly dragged him out of his usual dadrock/Beatlemania torpor, and as a result Who Built the Moon? is a bouncy, joyous, loved-up record containing some of Gallagher’s freshest, most enjoyable music in decades. You’d have to be particularly curmudgeonly not to enjoy ‘Holy Mountain’ for example, on which Gallagher splices together Roxy’s ‘Let’s Stick Together’, Plastic Bertrand’s ‘Ca plane pour moi’ and Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ into the best boozy glam rock rabble-rouser Chinn & Chapman never wrote. As long as you ignore the lyrics of course, and with Noel you should always ignore the lyrics. “Dance dance if you do that dance I’m gonna let you join my one-man band” indeed.
Elsewhere ‘Keep On Reaching’ sees Noel (almost) transformed into an early-70s soul man, complete with fabulously horny horns; Holmes’ breakbeats make ‘It’s a Beautiful Life’ more interesting than its demo version almost certainly was; and ‘She Taught Me to Fly’ throbs along like late-period New Order. Best of all is the truly wonderful stomper ‘If Love is the Law’, all sleighbells, Johnny Marr and the best chorus Noel has written since ‘Slide Away’.
Sadly Holmes can’t completely save Noel from himself, and Oasis-phobes should give a particularly wide berth to blues plodder ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’, the Noel-by-numbers indie rock of ‘Black & White Sunshine’, and the obligatory phones-aloft stadium balladry of ‘The Man Who Built the Moon’. But if, like me, you were expecting the usual limp, flaccid fare, you’ll find Who Built the Moon? surprisingly and satisfyingly tumescent.