Returning Noel Gallagher to his indie-rock ‘n’ roll roots, ‘Council Skies’ is the songwriter’s first full album in six years. Named after the coffee table book by acclaimed illustrator Pete McKee, ‘Council Skies’ is the highly anticipated fourth studio album from Noel and it’s his first full-length endeavour since 2017’s ‘Who Built the Moon?’.
Noel is reunited once again with Paul Stacey, a long-standing collaborator with the Gallagher brothers, having played bass on a selection of tracks on Oasis’ ‘Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants’ in 2000 as well as performing duties as a sound engineer on the aforementioned album.
Elevating and transformative, when it comes to his sonic approach, Noel is no stranger to challenging and pushing boundaries which has been evident with his previous EP releases. With ‘Council Skies’, Noel is reminiscing about the dreams he has growing up under ‘council skies’. There’s a real sense of contrast – whilst Noel has one foot in the past, he also has one foot in the future. It’s uplifting and at the same time melancholic. Whilst the entirety of the album is wholeheartedly reflective, it is certainly not a nostalgia trip.
Noel has long expressed his admiration for The Cure and nods to this were found on ‘Who Built The Moon’ and the intoxicating ‘Pretty Boy’ which with its restless post-punk energy has drawn comparisons with ‘A Forest’ from the magnificent ‘Seventeen Seconds’. With its mysterious and hypnotic melody and glittering neo-psych guitars that are refined and gritty in equal measure, the single is one of the standout tracks on the album. Featuring an enigmatic bass line that drives the track coupled with an almost Krautrock beat, it also features guitar work from Noel’s friend and long-time collaborator, Johnny Marr.
With references to the night sky “Beneath the starry sky / Of a distant moon / At the magic moment / That’s gonna come too soon” the urgency of the phrasing of the lyrics is elevated further by Marr’s epic guitar playing and the dark and brooding chord progressions. Robert Smith even makes an appearance on a remix of ‘Pretty Boy’ on the deluxe limited-edition of the album. Not only has he remixed the track, but he also plays guitar alongside Gallagher and Marr adding some pretty epic guitar solos along with some serious reverb which has given the remixed track a real spacey vibe.
The celestial theme continues with the eponymous track ‘Council Skies’: “Catch a falling star and we / Might drink to better days / Hiding what we find behind the sun / Thinking of what might have been…”
‘Council Skies’ with its sunny Mariachi beat is deeply personal and we gain a deeper insight into Noel’s most formative years. This beautiful track with its layered instrumentation is wistful and evocative, superbly elevated by the gorgeous strings that were recorded at the renowned Abbey Road Studios. It sees Noel Gallagher reclaiming his past and paying homage to his roots, whilst demonstrating how the power of music can whisk you away to some otherworldly place.
The dreamy strings also make an appearance on ‘Dead To The World’ which is almost cinematic-esque and is fully laden with emotion. Tender, heartfelt with real noir vibes, this sounds like something you might find on a future James Bond soundtrack. ‘Dead To The World’ also features intricate and dynamic chord structures which are heightened by the poignancy of the lyrics. There’s an air of resignation with lines like: “It’s time to let go / I’m bent over backwards” possibly alluding to the recent announcement of his marriage break-up, whilst emphatically concluding that “…if love ain’t enough / To make it alright / Leave me dead to the world…”
This track along with ‘Trying To Find A World That’s Been And Gone’ have the hallmarks of the classic Gallagher ballads with the latter being a quintessential Noel solo strummer which is chock-full of emotion. Whilst there are nods to his early sound, this track has an even more sophisticated and refined approach which shows his sublime musicianship.
The psychedelic ‘Easy Now’ is stirring and compassionate and with its emphatic and defiant hook, this beguiling track acts almost like a playbook for how to navigate your way in life when times are tough. Noel switches things up with the opening track ‘I’m Not Giving Up Tonight’ which has real Ibiza-style chilled out ambient vibes with a healthy dose of Northern Soul and some uplifting gospel thrown into the mix too.
‘There She Blows’ with its George Harrison-esque guitars is yet another highlight, alongside ‘Love Is A Rich Man’ with its dazzling drumbeat intro that pays homage to the opening seconds of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ by the Stone Roses. The sax sonics and rousing riff all go a long way to making it a real Gallagher standard. Whilst ‘We’re Gonna Get There In The End’ is a euphoric swashbuckling close to the album which is Noel’s most varied accomplished and enthralling solo record to date.
Noel Gallagher claims he has written three albums worth of songs and based on what we are hearing on ‘Council Skies’, the next few years is going to be very exciting for fans. Surefooted, revelatory, well-rounded and emotionally deep, ‘Council Skies’ cements his reputation as one of the best songwriters the UK has ever produced. This collection of songs is one of his finest post-Oasis offerings, and it feels like the album that Noel and his High Flying Birds have been aching to make.
Words: Emma Harrison