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It wouldn't be surprising to learn that Noel Gallagher had originally intended Standing on the Shoulder of Giants to be his solo debut, the disc that proved once and for all he was the one with all of the talent while his brother Liam got only the looks. (That's what the ladies say, anyway, though I can't really see it. I mean, come on, the guy's got a moustache on his forehead.) Not all of these songs, necessarily -- at least, you hope not -- but definitely this album. You can hear it in the way he sings "Where Did It All Go Wrong?" for the back row of the arena, or makes sure his voice is the only one heard on the album's best song, "Sunday Morning Call." He no longer takes the mike like a sideman, as he did on "Don't Look Back in Anger" off 1995's (What's the Story) Morning Glory? This is his album, or it was supposed to be.
That is, perhaps, the best way to explain how five songs that stand alongside some of Oasis' best ended up on a record that doesn't really deserve them. It's half of an album, really, because Noel challenges himself only on those five tracks, steps away from his familiar reference points and writes songs with his guitar instead of his record collection. And obviously, he realized this, because they're sequenced perfectly: the first two (the loop-laden "Fuckin' in the Bushes" and "Go Let It Out!") at the beginning to grab your interest, the other three (the two Noel sings, and the Cheap Trick-Replacements rip "I Can See a Liar") positioned near the end so there is a reason to wade through songs 3-6. Put simply, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants has a middle softer than a retired cop filled out by 20 years of jelly doughnuts. Save for "Put Your Money Where Yer Mouth Is," half of the record is B-side quality, at best. In short: The heart of the album doesn't have one.
After only a listen or two, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants comes off more like a too-soon follow-up than an album the group has had more than three years to work on. Repeated spins don't do anything to shake that feeling; they only serve to show more of the cracks. For one thing, the fact that Liam was allowed, for the first time ever, to contribute a song to the disc ("Little James," which probably owes a co-write to John and Paul...or maybe just Ringo) shows just how hastily the album was assembled. And hearing Noel sing the softly beautiful "Sunday Morning Call" like he actually means it for a change, or Liam sneer his way through "I Can See a Liar" (if nothing else, he does have a great rock-and-roll voice) only makes the rest of the album seem that much more average in comparison. There could have been a great album here at one point, but now, it barely stumbles across the finish line.