You can’t say that Noel Gallagher doesn’t know his audience. Last year during his Glastonbury set on the Pyramid Stage, he laid it bare: “I’m going to play a few more tunes that you don’t give a shit about. They’re for me. But if you stick around, after that there’s going to be a lot of very happy people in bucket hats.” If he was talking about his material under the Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds moniker in comparison to, say, Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ or ‘Wonderwall’; he is, of course, completely correct.
It’s not as if his time with High Flying Birds has ever lacked success – his previous three studio albums have reached Number One in the UK – but little he’s done since Oasis’ split has left much of a footprint outside the dedicated fanbase. He remains headline gold, however, recently calling The 1975’s Matty Healy a “slack-jawed fuckwit”, and noting how his new-found bromance with one-time Blur rival Damon Albarn would have aggravated his younger self. How far ‘Council Skies’ will travel in the wider pop culture world remains to be seen, but it doesn’t change that it’s the brightest, most listenable collection of songs he’s pieced together in some time.
Informed by his upbringing in Manchester – but recorded in his swanky new studio in London – ‘Council Skies’ is as satisfying a record as anyone could hope for from a Gallagher in 2023. There’s little resemblance to the lumpy lad-rock that he and his brother Liam turned to when it all started to sour, but lush ballads and purposeful choices that move the sound on even if the instantly-recognisable voice remains a constant. Much like how Arctic Monkeys’ ‘The Car’ employed orchestral strings decisively and carefully, ‘Council Skies’ does the same. The record’s title track isn’t overloaded with a stirring backdrop for the sake of it, but merely to season and enrich what was already there; the gorgeous ‘Dead To The World’ is as ambitious as ‘Champagne Supernova’ sounded two decades ago.
If there’s the odd stray into old habits – the plod of ‘There She Blows’, for one – such feelings are masked by what now seems like a blatant decision to not repeat the past. The Johnny Marr-starring ‘Pretty Boy’s muted but motorik drive is as close as we’ve heard Noel to re-capturing the rawness of Oasis’ early demos, while ‘Trying To Find A World That’s Been and Gone’ could have been written while daydreaming as a teenager, looking to forge a new path. The days of his audience listening to tunes that they “won’t give a shit about” could be about to end – these songs bridge the gap splendidly.
- Release date: June 2, 2023
- Record label: Sour Mash Records