Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Council Skies (Sour Mash)

In a recent Absolute Radio interview Noel Gallagher bemoaned the lack of mavericks and bands in the mainstream. Whilst he might have a point if he was referring to Brett Anderson, Tricky and Bjork et al, he was seemingly referring to, well, himself as he boasted, “The music industry doesn’t like mavericks. The reason there are no bands now is because in the 1990s Oasis and Primal Scream and Blur and Pulp, we were the mainstream. The music industry doesn’t like the mainstream being a load of fellas on drugs, drunk half the time, on a Tuesday.” After I had consumed the latest missive from the “real music” chief, I wondered, “Is being drunk really a sign of a musical maverick?” Well, his new solo album isn’t drunk on anything. It’s the sound of a man barely going through the motions after having a drink induced kip.

Produced by Gallagher with long-time collaborator Paul ‘Strangeboy’ Stacey during lockdown, Council Skies is his fourth solo album and the follow up to three (yes three!) chart topping albums under the High Flying Birds moniker. It’s a set of barely conscious, string backed, plodding ballads and tick box rock songs, where the overriding feeling is Noel just doesn’t sound that bothered throughout, like he’s checked out: like he is barely there. Maybe Noel GallAIgher could turn up the Noel on this Noel album?

He offered of the album to the NME: “It’s going back to the beginning. 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,” Gallagher explained. “When I was growing up in poverty and unemployment, music took me out of that. Top Of The Pops on TV transformed your Thursday night into this fantasy world, and that’s what I think music should be. I want my music to be elevating and transforming in some way.”

So we get the wistful, nostalgic, looking back with a pair of rose tinted sunglasses as much as in anger, but the pace is one dimensional. At least with his last LP Who Built the Moon? there was a bit of groove, a bit of a dance element with David Holmes at the desk, but this album lacks dynamism. A set of songs that’s best described as pedestrian. The dream he captures here isn’t the spirit of escape in ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ instead it involves a middle aged stupor. Council Skies is looking back on his glory days and delivering grey re-treads. Is this the same man who dashed off anthems like ‘Live Forever’ or a b-side like ‘Talk Tonight’? Songs that burnt brashly and brightly.

Noel was never the best singer. There’s a reason Liam sang most of the songs, but he could give it some welly when he wanted to open his lungs up. Here he sounds barely audible at times, each line delivered with a modest mewl. It’s like he is half asleep! A“will this do?” mither. A “I’m Noel, surely that’s enough?’ complacency and arrogance. If Steve Coogan put this out as a parody album you would say it isn’t funny enough, or memorable- too subtle. The songs are just there. The vocals don’t just sit in the pocket they get lost down there.

Take tepid opener ‘I’m Not Giving Up Tonight’ a muted beginning thats sway asks us to “keep dancing to the sound of the music,” but the sound is barely there Noel- a song for the rocking chair. There’s no dynamic in his voice. It’s fading into the background.

His recent cover of Love Will Tear Us Apart’ a criminally dreary interpretation; a textbook example how to reduce a classic song of wrought emotion and drama to a heartless trudge that could soundtrack a Sunday morning programme on BBC2. He plays the guitar like it might hurt him if he strums too hard, looking like a narky jacket potato, singing with all the gusto and passion of a fella keeled over on the sofa after three roast dinners.

Then you have ‘Pretty Boy’ accompanied by Johnny Marr‘s licks and remixed on another version by Robert Smith. Presumably, Noel is desperately looking to add some credibility to this mostly turgid track list. Its ever so slightly more up-tempo and contains a decent fuzz bass, but that can’t mask the fact that this just washes by and by the end you are left thinking, “Is that it?”

Noel claimed ‘Dead To The World‘ is “one of the best songs he’s ever written. He’s never been one for modesty has he? Whilst its not bad in the context of this record, this wistful waltz bathed in strings half inched from a Hovis advert is just barely alright, and wouldn’t have made it on any Oasis record. At least he breaks the merest slither of a falsetto, but it still contains lines as plodding as “Gonna write you a song/ Won’t take me long/ You can change all the words/And still get them wrong.”

Title track ‘Council Skies’ finds our Noel discovering the bossa nova preset on his sample machine, at least it conjures up images of Manchester back in the early days before Oasis made it- Noel writing songs in his time between shifts on a building site, or his time being a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets, living on a council estate and dreaming of making it big, but you can’t escape the feeling you have heard this before when you realise it’s an ever so slight rework of ‘AKA What A Life’ from his first solo record.

Then we have a few songs that could have made it onto latter Oasis albums, slightly up-tempo tracks like ‘Open The Door, See What You Find’ or the Beatles-y earnestness of ‘Easy Now’‘ whilst being one of the better moments, this brassy blast just leaves you with the impression that in part he’s rewriting ‘The Importance of Being Idle’. It also makes you think that whilst Liam Gallagher can sound at times like he’s a faulty foghorn with a nasal problem, it would still give this song a bit more oomph if he was singing it. The first thing I noticed about ‘Love is a Rich Man‘ is that it has a drum pattern nicked from a song by another Manchester band ‘I Am The Resurrection’ by The Stone Roses and smeared in strings and brass, it sounds over egged and under written.

We’re Gonna Get There In The End‘, whilst more bouncy with brass, is so riddled with hackneyed lyrical phrases that to amuse yourself, you could play a game of spot the cliché with each line. “Don’t fight the feeling/Don’t stop believing in what you know.” Let’s face it, whilst Noel could pen a tune when he put his mind to it, lyrics were never his forte anyway.

Council Skies is the sound of a man bereft of ideas, going over old ground, revisiting old haunts. He says it’s inspired by growing up in Manchester and there are references to all of that, but really it sounds like a man heading towards 60, reflecting in his country mansion, out of ideas, drowning in his own complacency and arrogance, fearful of his own irrelevance, musically run a ground, he’s probably happy churning out this sleepy bilge and occasionally stirring the pot to get some attention with “loudmouth” outbursts every album cycle, because each release is automatically successful anyway to a degree, because it has his name on it, but he will always live in the shadow of Oasis. The biggest indictment is that after this set has finished I struggled to remember many of the songs. Noel should name his next album That’ll Do with bonus tracks ‘Not Arsed’ , ‘Remember The Old Days When Music Was Real Man?’ and ‘I Think I’ll Have A Kip Now’. His new album is unremittingly boring. What became of the “mavericks”? ‘Half (hearted) the World Away.’


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.