Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – “Council Skies” review: You Know We Can Go Back
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ latest record moves smoothly and deliberately to the musical territories of his second (and best) solo album, Chasing Yesterday. And it’s nothing wrong – we need more Oasis-like, Beatles-inspired and deeply rooted in nostalgia Noel.
Words by Jan Tracz
And it's alright to know we can't go back/Said it's alright to know we can't go back/You know we can't go back, sings Noel Gallagher on his second album, pondering on reminiscences of the past, while accepting everything that happens in the present. While the song, You Know We Can’t Go Back, was a cogent metaphor of his own thoughts on Oasis’ reunion (no wonder, really), it seems like Noel decided to forget about those verses, at least musically.
With his newest album, the legendary musician leaves his space-rockish penthouse, once rented in 2017, when he presented Who Built the Moon?, captivating and, intensifying with every listening, album. It was a decent experiment, yet – except for a few tracks, oozing with their addictive choruses – not too memorable. Noel’s fans still remember Riverman or Dream On from the first two records, while Holy Mountain resembles a muted echo of this “cosmic” past. This is why Council Skies is more grounded in the tradition of, as Rolling Stone’s reviewer once put it, pub-choir-ready choruses. Seemingly, Noel understood what exactly his fans needed from him. Besides, there is a tangible mixture of ensuing sentiments and regrets, which is, presumably, a result of Noel’s recent divorce from long-time partner, Sara MacDonald.
Alternatively stated, it is a typical Noel, who offers a ten-track album consisting of addictive guitars merged with lyrical, yet not too affectionate tearjerkers. Only at times, the whole thing seems self-plagiarising, but it’s not a flaw per se, as Gallagher’s fanbase knows what to expect from their “grumpy” rock star. Even so, at 56, Oasis’ most prominent lyricist is still determined to confirm his once-gained musical esteem. The longer you listen to Council Skies, the more it feels like Chasing Yesterday’s long-distance cousin. For instance, Easy Now, with its awe-inspiring orchestral strings (let’s be honest, by now, they have become Noel’s trademarks), feels like a gentle transition to the classical, Oasis-resembling style, which consists of a few additions, making his music more low-key and less raucous.
There is a good balance of blending mellow ballads and more rapacious numbers, as Noel knows how to deal with those contrasts. For charming and notably sentimental (even for Noel) I’m Not Giving Up Tonight, we get – in a form of a counterpoint – a dynamic Pretty Boy, with an absolutely compelling riff and slightly muted presence of Johnny Marr. That being said, it feels like most of the album’s songs have indelible melodies, so they carry you blithely along. Within a few listenings, you slowly start singing choruses and remembering melodies produced in an already-known and coherent manner. The whole album is also a rapport between impassioned and remorseful Noel. We hear it in Think of a Number, which closes the whole album and leaves its listeners with a homesick longing for something unknown and completely unreachable.
Although his fourth solo record, Council Skies, breaks no new ground, it is still an irresistible ride worth repeating. Gallagher elicits a feeling of complacency in his listeners as he, again, proves it was worth waiting for this new album. Even if Noel Gallagher will always be indebted to his rock past and Oasis’ irrevocable legacy, his solo records are consistently enriching our musical senses. In the long run, being his fan feels utterly rewarding.