Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds Council Skies review

Council Skies review | Noel Gallagher turns to the tried and tested with his High Flying Birds

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds are, to some extent, underrated; overshadowed by the noise that surrounds the former Oasis man’s former outfit with brother Liam. Despite some moments of majesty, however, Council Skies is by no means their best work.


Much of the brouhaha that accompanies almost every word uttered by brothers Noel and Liam – the will-they-won’t-they question mark over a potential Oasis reunion – has had one clear effect: distracting us from each of the pair’s endeavours beyond the Britpop band’s days.

A case in point came this very week when, on the eve of the release of Noel’s latest album, Council Skies, Liam took swipe at his brother’s “piss poor and damn rite [sic] blasphemous” cover of sacred Manchester tune, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. 

Whilst some of Noel’s antics are self-induced too (the elder Gallagher also made the news this week for a driving offence despite, err, not having a licence), the sibling bickering is quite a shame when it detracts from what is a very respectable output.

Council Skies

From the eponymous 2011 debut of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds to 2017’s yearning Who Built The Moon?, with its spacious sounds that could soundtrack a roadtrip across the desert, there’s been plenty of overlooked tunes. Nothing has ever quite hit the heights of the memorable, anthemic Oasis work, but tunes like ‘AKA… What A Life!’ certainly skimmed the border.

Council Skies isn’t a terrible record by any means. True to its title, its running theme is a sense of the bittersweet; a longing for something better beyond the clouds, whilst remaining stuck in the humdrum of everyday life. And let’s face it, we could all do with a bit of that. Noel had billed the record as one of “Daydreaming, looking up at the sky and wondering about what life could be”, and in many ways this rings true.

But ultimately nothing strikes as anything completely compelling or original, with an album that mainly relies on oft-heard tropes and a fairly predictable soft rock pitter-patter. His offer on slow number ‘Dead To The World’ – “Gonna write you a song / Won’t take me long” – is inadvertently one of the most apposite refrains across the album; here’s a songwriter, indeed one of the finest of his generation, digging into his armoury of tried and tested lyrics and chords.

Take the chorus of lead single ‘Pretty Boy’, for instance, in which Noel belts out “You tell me that you want it, yeah-yeah” above a smattering of weary chords and a drum machine; or ‘Easy Now’, which despite its choral backing and rousing swell of guitar, utilises so many cliches it ends up merely sounding like a pastiche of a Don’t Look Back In Anger B-side. The Christmassy jingle to ‘Open The Door, See What You Find’, meanwhile, sounds slightly out of place.

What’s more, sandwiched by the festival tent-ready ‘I’m Not Giving Up Tonight’ and ‘We’re Gonna Get There In The End’, with their shared messages of determination through love and music, and listening to the album in its entirety makes you slightly end up feeling as though you’re driving round the roundabout that adorns its cover.

There are some moments that do shine, however, with flashes of Noel’s bona fide songwriting credentials. It’s unsurprising that even Liam enjoyed the pared-back serenity of ‘Dead To The World’, which sounds akin to one of fellow Mancunians Doves’ more drifting tracks. The whirling commotion of the title track, too, is made all the better by bearing some of the more pained vocals across the album.

Ultimately, whilst the never-ending news cycle that surrounds Noel outside of his music has led to him and his High Flying Birds being somewhat underappreciated, Council Skies is by no means their best work. You’d rather the fans be given what they wanted; and who knows, maybe the identity of the mysterious Glastonbury band The Churnups might provide exactly that in a few week’s time – you heard it here first…

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