Council Skies (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds) – music review

Back when everyone was in lockdown due to the pandemic, Noel Gallagher recorded a bright, Britpop song with a bouncy chorus and full brass and string orchestration titled “We’re Going to Get There in the End,” a bold bit of optimism in the face of our common struggles. He put it out as a gift to his fans on YouTube, and it got the response he hoped for, but he didn’t see it as natural fit for his fourth solo album which he describes as “this reflective, kind of melancholic record.” In the end, he relented; it’s the bonus track no. 11 on the one-disc version and shows up on the bonus disc of the deluxe version, along with numerous remixes plus a cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games” and a live version of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”

Given that the title track of Council Skies finds the former Oasis band-leader thinking back to his childhood growing up on a council estate in Manchester, and with many of the songs written during the COVID shut-down, Gallagher is definitely reflective throughout the ten other new songs here, but given his natural penchant for melodic choruses the album’s far from a complete downer. The album’s first single, “Pretty Boy,” tracks the romance of a young couple: “a girl like me/there was a girl like you/she made him sing like Elvis/when she’s feeling blue.” But Gallagher can’t resist the promise that he can make it better, with the song’s promise that “I’ll make your dreams come true,” in a more up-tempo chorus.

Turns out Johnny Marr guests on guitar for “Pretty Boy”, as well as on the 60’s pop beat of “Open the Door, See What You Find,” a la The Hollies with the lush Beatlesque orchestration recorded at Abbey Road Studios no less. And the former Smith’s guitarist also adds his unique guitar touch to the title track which resonates with a steady driving drum beat and the resonating tones of tuned gongs. But Gallagher doesn’t require star cameos, given his own skill set and the able back of his High Flying Birds: the rhythm section of bassist Russell Pritchard and drummer Chris Sharrock, who also played with Oasis, Mike Rowe on keyboards, Gem Archer on guitars, but also Gallagher’s co-producer Paul “Strangeboy” Stacey who stepped up to play the guitar solo for “Easy Now,” in the mode of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.

Of course, Gallagher has never been shy about his influences, from the Beatles and Bowie, and lots of classic rock artists. So, you can’t be blamed hearing the way he’s absorbed and adapted influences to fit his own voice and purpose. The folk pop harmonies of “There She Blows” echoes the 70’s Laurel Canyon bands like The Byrds and CSN, while “Love Is a Rich Man” rings out with the late 60’s neo-psychedelic feel with a driving Stones’ drum beat a la Charlie Watts. The album’s opener finds Gallagher at his most determined, “I’m Not Giving Up Tonight,” and most at home singing the chorus like a declaration that is carried over by more of that Abbey Road orchestration. After fourteen years of mega-hits with Oasis, Gallagher is a dozen years into his solo career, and throughout Council Skies we hear an artist who’s at home in his own skin, making the music that suits him at this stage of his life and career. Not unlike Paul Weller whose solo career is always viewed in comparison with his early breakthroughs with The Jam, Gallagher forges a solo identity, while continuing to bear witness to the strong music that led him to pick up a guitar in the first place.

Brian Q. Newcomb
For more of Brian Q. Newcomb’s music reviews, check out The Fire Note

Other reviews you might enjoy: