Council Skies is Noel Gallagher at his retrospective best
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
In a drab world of marketing campaigns and quarterly targets and just yearning to silence the incessant screams of the influencers, it’s such a relief to stumble on something classic.
In this case it’s a record, Council Skies, by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, the winking label for all of Gallagher’s solo material. And within lies a collection of songs that are perfectly suited for this confusing moment and seemingly destined to live on through the years, written by a man who has seen every end of the fame spectrum and still has a knack for knocking out a song. And still, he’s never made an album quite like this one.
I don’t think anyone should need, and certainly not expect, another wall-of-guitars production a la the Oasis days. Because while that was fun, and still sounds stirring blasting out of the speakers nearly 30 years later, it wouldn’t necessarily be an honest representation of the artist today.
So instead of pining for a world that’s been and gone, Gallagher has focused on the bones of what made Oasis such a stunning band, and that’s the song. With its genesis coming in lockdown and as a reaction to some personal strife that should be, while not obvious, at least apparent in the lyrical content, Gallagher has 10 songs (bumping up to 12 or 24 recordings, depending on the format) that serve as a stark reminder of his remaining relevance.
It’s a bit interesting, and probably just on me, to be this surprised to hear Gallagher this introspective throughout an album — the man did write “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Live Forever,” of course. But those songs came from the vantage point of youth, where Gallagher, now decades past, is looking back and taking stock the way a man in his mid-twenties never could.
What’s refreshing through all of this is that he forgoes bitterness or cynicism in the process. The songs have that bountiful songcraft that he has always had in spades, but this album isn’t a monument to banging out some catchy melodies, getting them down with faceless musicians and shooting the results out to the masses for consumption.
On a record that’s loaded with memorable tunes and songs that could be classics if this weren’t such a drab time, “Open the Door, See What You Find” might be the key. Opening with strings agains the drums, Gallagher comes out with his trademark couplets and lush instrumentation that comes more from the antiquated world of pop, and less from the blatantly commercial enterprise to which no one should give their time. Wrapped up in all this is a message that remains positive without becoming hammy or saccharine — open the door, see what you find, don’t look away.
It all illustrates that Council Skies is an organic, vibrant look at what the future could hold, stacked up against the prism of the past. The artwork and album title itself, calling out to Manchester and paying homage to the site of Manchester City’s former football grounds, are all knowing, wistful looks back at what had been and what no longer is. It’s a far cry from the attitude Gallagher once told an interviewer when he said his dream was that, “I can’t wait to get out of this shit hole when I’ve made some fucking money.”
But therein lies the benefit and curse of time. The 20-year-old has no idea what’s ahead, and the 50-year-old can’t help but look back at what was. All this might be best illustrated on “Trying to Find a World That’s Been and Gone Pt. 1,” just the right kind of unwieldy title to throw those looking too hard for a message off the scent. But despite those efforts, it’s there, as a simple treatise on just trying to keep moving and keep living while everything else seems so unsure.
“You give me the will to carry on
In a place where I belong
As we try to find a world that’s been and gone...”
It’s not difficult to hear this album as not just Gallagher processing and coming to terms with various mid-life conflicts, but channeling it all through the comfort of music. From the muted cry of the opening “I’m Not Giving Up Tonight” through the closing “Think of a Number,” and its refrain of “I hope it comes round again,” there’s a series of quips and bits of wisdom throughout, pulled together in a most musical sense.
For all of the one-liners and wisecracks in the press — Gallagher remains one of the better interviews in music — there’s a real person in there. And his ability to articulate the convergence of loss and hope in a way that can leave us dizzy remains without parallel. Pair that with a sympathetic production that places his voice squarely and realistically in the midst of honest instrumentation, and all that’s left is a classic waiting to be discovered.
E-mail Nick Tavares at email@example.com