Tory boy Noel Gallagher is back, not with a bang but a traipse through a childhood and culture he no longer feels a part of. Council Skies, a slap in the face to those who were raised pulling themselves up to maintain their lives, not slap hands with Tony Blair and decry those on Benefits Street as “nothing”. Still, not everyone is Gallagher, the high-flying bird himself. Some may have more to say about their formative years while others do not have the string section funding to make it into a twelve-track album. Half of it is singles, middling in their qualities and a shade greyer and duller than the High Flying Birds debut from over a decade ago. How time changes a man. Grizzled heroes of the nostalgia crowd have what it takes to make interesting work, usually.
Empty opener, empty closer, the titles enough to tell its tale. I’m Not Giving Up Tonight and We’re Gonna Get There in the End stripped straight from the script of a GCSE school drama. A pep talk for punchy, neutral optimism. Ted Lasso with less warmth and braggadocious writing. Even when Gallagher enlists the personal effects of his upbringing and youth, it feels as though he learned nothing. He champions no real specifics which listeners can then reflect on, connect with and inherit. Beyond a list of sluggish singles, from the emotional cladding of Dead to the World to the spirited, Johnny Marr-including Pretty Boy, Gallagher and his backing band of birds bring about no steady or interesting emotional flow. Pre-written songs were banned from the Belfast sessions which birthed Council Skies, yet the hope of spontaneity is lost, the spotty patches covered up by acoustic familiarities.
At its best, Council Skies is palatable but never feels sincere. Keep dancing to the sound of his music, a gentle, constant sway of nearly fifty minutes. Parts of larger problems are worth sticking around for at times though, there is a confidence and tenderness to I’m Not Giving Up Tonight not replicated elsewhere. Gallagher knows where he is and who he appeals to, as is shown in Trying to Find a World That’s Been and Gone Pt. 1, a number which slows it all down, repetitively so since all the other tracks do the same. At least his tenderness feels genuine on tracks like this, but it is over before he truly dives into it and his feelings. A shame, since Gallagher can pride himself on at least a degree of openness throughout this album, but it never amounts to much.
Flickers of openness come and go, ultimately buried under some standard bits of instrumental work. There She Blows! finds itself hanging around the pearly gates as a thick and beefy guitar strikes through. Sometimes, just sometimes, the instrumentals are loud enough to cover up the relatively plain toast listening experience which comes from Gallagher’s work. A nice guitar solo here, a loud enough string section there, it blows the man at the centre out of the water. An audacious little piece on Love is a Rich Man sticks out, although by this point the dancing with others and the emotional connection flowing through Council Skies feels stifled and a trifle unwarranted. Chances throughout to add some spirit, a new flavour to his emotionally strained experience, are missed. Gallagher standards which are held up by the album tracks, those singles still surrounded by a foul and identifiably wretched stench. Grey and muddled skies overhead cast their overcast, tired feel onto the tracks throughout. We’re going to get there in the end, a defiant Gallagher believes as he whacks out another emotionally contrite piece, hard to sound out under the thick layers of poor mixing.