Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds return for the first time in six years with Council Skies. The long-awaited return sees Noel Gallagher successfully make numerous stylistic changes while contemplating a range of emotions to piece together a well-crafted album that maturely reflects on the past yet manages to look toward the future.
The record opens with “I’m Not Giving Up Tonight”, which sees an atmospherically strummed acoustic guitar team together with Gallagher’s soft vocals to provide a warm welcome to the band’s fourth album. As the song opens up, so does the vocal performance, particularly through the chorus, culminating in the resilient line, “Darling, I’m not giving up tonight”. Following the relaxed, reassuring opening, there is a more urgent feel to the second track, “Pretty Boy”, one of the more up-tempo songs on the album.
The gently strummed acoustic guitar returns for “Dead To The World”, which emanates an ethereal feel throughout and perfectly showcases the highest reaches of Noel Gallagher’s voice. Following on from the contemplative number, “Open The Door, See What You Find” radiates positivity with vibrant strings playing off against acoustic guitar and driving drum fills to provide a highlight of the album. The contemplative mood of the record continues through “Trying To Find A World That’s Been And Gone”, again boosted by soaring strings, Gallagher pleads for the “will to carry on, in a place where I belong.”
The uplifting “Easy Now” seems ready-made for the live arena, with its ascending chorus culminating in Gallagher singing, “I’ll be there, I’ll wait for you, I swear”. The track also features one of the album’s few prominent electric guitar solos.
The title track, “Council Skies”, seems to be Gallagher paying tribute to his roots and Manchester upbringing, with the line, “Taking the long way home”, proving powerful. The notion of yearning for home seems to be a recurring theme across the album, with even the cover art took on where the centre spot once lay on the former home of Manchester City, Maine Road.
The focus is not all nostalgic, with the future being acknowledged on the driving “There She Blows!” in which Noel Gallagher, tapping into his life experience, finds himself “Searching the seven seas for love” while admitting, “Where we’re going no one knows” and advising, “Don’t get left behind”. The future is once again looked toward on “Think Of A Number” with the lyrics, “Let’s drink to the future, I hope it comes around again”.
The welcome addition of the bonus track “We’re Gonna Get There In The End” closes the album on a triumphantly uplifting note. The inspiring song features one of the standout lyrics on the album, with Gallagher informing, “Life is a trip that you don’t take twice.” The record closes with Gallagher gently delivering the soothingly reassuring line, “You’re gonna get there in the end”.
The fourth album from Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds feels to be a succinct, deliberate journey that plays on the heartfelt, emotive elements expressed throughout the record. At times, there is a lack of punch. However, the subject matter that pours out of the well-crafted selection of songs manages to steer the journey onward successfully.
While there may be a lack of swaggering anthemic songs, many of the tracks have a genuine emotional depth that makes them easy to relate to. As a result, Council Skies offers a compelling case to be put forward as Noel Gallagher’s best solo work yet, although there remains the feeling that the album could be a springboard to better things for the band.