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Noel Gallagher: Is 'Council Skies' interesting enough to swot away the Oasis reunion rumours?

A look at Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds fourth album and how its promotion has been overshadowed by rumours and squabbles.

I think its safe to say the media promotion for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds new album Council Skies has been overshadowed by the usual insults and one-man up ship which often accompanies output by either half of the Gallagher Brothers. Firstly, of course, the media’s obsession with discussing the potential reunion of Oasis. A topic which has grown arms and legs recently as the 30th anniversary of Definitely Maybe looms next year.

It reached a head last week on Seattle radio station 98.9 KPNW, Noel addressing his brother Liam with a challenge: "I f****ing dare you to call me (about the reunion). I dare you to call me. And you won't call me, because if you do call me and I go, 'Actually that's a good idea. Actually, that might work. Then the arse falls out of his trousers, because then you've got to be in the same room as me and we both know how that ends up."

As expected, the barbs between the two continued. This was much to our collective amusement (I mean, who doesn’t love watching the brothers squabble?!) but sadly getting us no further to the desired outcome of an Oasis reunion. As if the promotion for Council Skies itself wasn’t being thrown into the shade enough, Noel then turned his attention on The 1975, questioning the band’s rock ‘n’ roll credentials and calling their frontman Matty Healy a “slack-jawed f***wit”.

Whilst it’s hard not to question the former statement (and in no way endorsing the latter!), Healy came back with an absolute zinger of a response in reply at a performance in Dublin: “The difference between me and Noel is that I do a series of interviews to promote an album, whereas he does an album to promote a series of interviews.” Shots fired back and some! Not since Jay-Z opened his 2008 Glastonbury headline set with a botched version of ‘Wonderwall’ in response to questions over his relevancy at the festival has a comeback to a snidey Noel Gallagher comment been so on the money.

But even the most ardent Oasis fan would admit to there being at least a little bit of truth to Matty Healy’s statement. As the release date came and went, it was clear Noel’s band’s fourth studio album was low in the pecking order of subjects he’d be asked to cover in promotional interviews. On top of the Oasis reunion, the singer-songwriter was later encouraged to discuss Man City’s recent success more than anything else. So now feels like the perfect time to actually talk about his band’s latest effort.

The title of Council Skies has Noel revising his pre-fame days: “It’s going back to the beginning,” Gallagher explained in an Instagram post, “daydreaming, looking up at the sky and wondering about what life could be… that’s as true to me now as it was in the early ’90s.” The album was recorded in his Lone Star Sound Recording Studios in London, strings then added at Abbey Road Studios.

In the run up to the album’s release, the singles - such as ‘Easy Now’ and ‘Pretty Boy’ - received extensive play on the likes of Radio X, though did little to inspire confidence in Council Skies. They all sounded quite bland and safe, and I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree where the rest of the record is concerned. At least, on first listen. After hearing it a couple more times, I was caught by surprise at how much more I was enjoying these songs within the context of the album. Because as a collection of tracks, it eventually turns out to be a very pleasant listen…for two-thirds of the experience at least.

On early tracks ‘I’m Not Giving Up Tonight’ and ‘Dead To The World’ (which the ever humble Noel has called: “one of the best songs I have ever written”), the Manchester icon does his best to blow us away and succeeds, the luscious strings complimenting the delicacy of his voice. Even Liam revealed himself to be a fan of ‘Dead To The World’, tweeting: “How can such a mean spirited little man write such a beautiful song”. Which sums up things well. Behind all the bravado and sh** talking is a sensitive song writer who possesses the ability to tingle our spines from time to time.

The atmospheric ‘Trying To Find A World That’s Been And Gone’ then further confirms this theory - another beautiful, acoustic led ballad which sits high up in the list of best tracks here. Meanwhile the previously mentioned ‘Pretty Boy’, which features Johnny Marr, is as rousing a tune as we’ll get, Noel belting out the chorus with as much gusto as he can muster without the song playing to the gallery: “You know you can't have it, yeah-yeah / So get your head down, pretty boy”.

While mid-point tracks ‘Easy Now’ and ‘Council Skies’ act as the record’s anthemic centre pieces – and sounding better as part of this collection of tracks rather than as singles - we then find our engagement levels fading for the rest of the record. By the time we get to the final third, the similarities with what’s gone on before becomes wearing. For example, on the penultimate ‘Think Of A Number’ began, you’d be forgiven for checking if you hadn’t accidently clicked repeat on one of the early tracks, such is the glaring echoes it possesses with others on the record.

Council Skies will be adored by those already a fan of Noel’s band’s earlier albums Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011) and Chasing Yesterday (2015). But for those who weren’t particularly won over by those albums, this is very much one to put on while you’re doing something else. Definitely not one to soak in on a long walk with your headphones on.

Which is a shame because 2017’s Who Built the Moon? had a lot going for it in the engagement stakes. Council Skies just lacks the dynamism which existed on Noel’s previous. There’s no track as interesting as, say, a ‘It’s A Beautiful World’, ‘Sky Taught Me How To Fly’ or ‘Holy Mountain’. Plus what happened to High Flying Birds eccentricity? It may have been mocked, but there was something quite quirky about them having a French scissor player! This may as well have been a solo record for the lack of interesting sounds coming from elsewhere (strings aside).

All in all, Council Skies is a perfectly fine record likely to satisfy those who already think of Noel in the category of Godlike genius status. Its just, unlike his last album, the music isn’t quite attention-grabbing enough to swot away all the Oasis reunion questions which so often become the headline story.



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