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Who Built the Moon?

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It's hard to blame Noel Gallagher for opting for stability over adventure once he disbanded Oasis. After spending nearly 20 years battling his brother Liam, he needed to take things easy, and if his solo records -- Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (2011) and Chasing Yesterday (2015) -- were a little too calm, consider it a consequence of navigating himself out of chaos. Despite achieving solo success, Gallagher seemed to have a nagging voice in the back of his head that he'd ceded the psychedelic ground he claimed at the height of Brit-pop. That voice began to beckon when he first launched his solo career, leading him to cut an album with trippy production team Amorphous Androgynous in 2011 but, unsatisfied with the results, he scrapped the project. Gallagher finally figured out how to reconnect with the part of him that sang with Chemical Brothers in 2017, when he teamed up with fellow '90s survivor producer/composer David Holmes for Who Built the Moon? Opening with the Technicolor pulse of "Fort Knox" -- a swirling near-instrumental that deliberately recalls "F***** in the Bushes" -- Who Built the Moon? announces itself as a noisier, busier record than either of its predecessors but by the time the stomping "Holy Mountain" kicks in, it's clear that Gallagher and Holmes are engaging in a decidedly retro notion of the future, one that looks back to the '90s looking back at the '60s. This has been Noel's stock in trade since the start, but during Oasis' heyday, he'd undercut his conservatism by making a great, bloody racket and writing melodies that sliced into the subconscious -- calling cards he neglected in his bid from maturation. Who Built the Moon? happily restores these elements to the equation, marrying it to his refined sense of songcraft. Gallagher may not precisely serve up surprises here -- Holmes adds some attractive, quirky flair on the margin, but he's working with sounds Noel endorsed in the first act of his career -- but there is a certain rush hearing him opt for glam, psychedelia, and candied pop instead of respectable strumming. Once that initial rush fades, the album is still satisfying due to its impeccable execution. Noel knows how to construct a sturdy song and Holmes knows how to dress them up in flashy clothes, and the combination results in Gallagher's best album since splitting up Oasis. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine