15 Years Ago, Oasis Dropped Their Final Album — But Noel Gallagher's Latest Is Better
With Council Skies, the Oasis rocker gives a masterclass in rock music history.
Legend tells us there are two options when rock stars get old: burn out or fade away. But, what if rock stars can change? Noel Gallagher, the Manchester-born songwriter famous for his songs in Oasis, gives hope to that third option with his newest album, Council Skies. If you’re looking for a record that will remind you of a brash twenty-something who believes he can “Live Forever,” that’s not what this is. As Gallagher said in an interview with Rolling Stone about the album, “let me be 56.” In this way, Council Skies is like a fusion between Britpop and whatever dad-core fashion would sound like as rock music. And that’s a good thing.
With Council Skies, Gallagher has fully transitioned into the role of elder statesman of British rock, and in doing so made a nuanced banger of an album, better than the final Oasis album — Dig Out Your Soul — which dropped fifteen years ago in 2008. His latest album, recording with his band, The High Flying Birds, is a collection of songs made by an older, wiser rocker. But, ironically, it's probably dancier and more accessible for your kids than some early Oasis — especially the excellent remixes and bonus tracks.
For casual American music fans, Oasis was a ‘90s band perhaps best known for their propensity to cancel gigs and fight with each other, and for a few earworms, most notably, “Wonderwall.” But, serious fans of rock music, even those not obsessed with the Britpop titans, are certainly aware of the unique talent of Noel Gallagher. As the songwriter of Oasis, Noel is the man who wrote all those songs — from “Don’t Look Back In Anger” to “Champagne Supernova” — and occasionally, took over vocal duties for his brother, Liam, the more visible frontman of the band. Following the release of Dig Out Your Soul in 2008, Oasis finally split in 2009, with each brother going their own way.
While those obsessed with ‘90s nostalgia want a proper Oasis reunion, Noel’s new album feels sonically very distant from those days. Liam’s last effort — 2022’s C’mon You Know — sounds more like an Oasis album, albeit with way better production values. But the exact sound of Council Skies is harder to pin down, partly because it's so eclectic. With the big anthem track “Easy Now,” old-school Gallagher disciples will be reminded of the sweeping chorus of Oasis classics like “The Masterplan” or “Stand By Me.” But, the album also has the dance-inspired track “Pretty Boy,” early on, which, as remixed by Robert Smith of the Cure on the bonus tracks sounds like it could become the theme to the next James Bond movie.
The title track, “Council Skies” is catchy as hell, but the lyrics contain themes closer to that of a memoirist. The titular “Council Skies” refer to Gallagher growing up in a council estate — state-built housing for low-income families, and the imagery recalls the kind of everyday romance one might find there. For those who may have forgotten, Gallagher’s story is truly rags to riches, and his working-class roots have always informed not just his music, but his public persona as well. In his highly entertaining interviews, you always get the sense that Gallagher is perhaps the most honest man in all of rock music, and like a true dad, perpetually wants everyone off his lawn. As if he couldn’t get more dad core, Gallagher also dips into his love of Bob Dylan on this album, dropping a story song or two, written with strange fictive points-of-view, like “There She Blows.”
But, what makes Council Skies such a great album is that if you simply put it on, anyone with a Noel Gallagher bias (some people hate Oasis, right?) will walk into the room and say “Hey who is this? This is great!” The baggage of Noel being the guy from Oasis seems to finally not matter on Council Skies at all, because it's just a consistently solid album, which isn’t trying to sound like Oasis.
That said, for as good as the main album is, the remixes and bonus tracks might be slightly better to play around the house. I have a six-year-old who loves Oasis songs like “Roll With It” but who is also partial to dancing to more contemporary hits from Japanese Breakfast or, yes, Ed Sheeran. For that kind of very young music lover — or somebody who lacks the patience for Noel’s whole deal — all the remixed tracks on Council Skies are revelations. The Pet Shop boys do a remix of Noel’s new song “Think of a Number,” while impresario David Holmes does his take on “I’m Not Giving Up Tonight.” Again, Robert Smith’s remix of “Pretty Boy” is fantastic, and even the mild remix of “Council Skies” is a bit more accessible than the album version.
Essentially, the primary album feels like a rock equivalent of a Martin Amis novel. Meanwhile, the remixes on the bonus disc feel like the album got turned into a big blockbuster movie or slick Netflix show. Both are great, and both demonstrate what a great songwriter Noel Gallagher is; not necessarily as a lyricist, but as someone capable of producing unique combinations of chords and melodies, basically on instinct alone.
If you get a physical version of the album, the regular version of the vinyl lacks the bonus tracks. So, if you’re going for physical media, the double- CD is the way to go. There is a triple-vinyl version of the album out there — which has all the remixes and bonus tracks — but that one is only available on the official High Flying Birds website. Of course, both Spotify and Apple have the Deluxe versions of the album digitally, which bundles all the extra songs. In addition to the remixes, the bonus tracks also include a live, acoustic version of the Oasis classic “Live Forever,” as well as Noel’s new covers of John Lennon’s “Mind Games,” and the Bob Dylan banger “You Ain't Going Nowhere.” From these old-school cover songs to the forward direction of songs like “Pretty Boy” and “Council Skies,” Noel Gallagher’s latest album could serve as an amazing introduction to someone’s rock education. Kids can dance to the album, adults can have deep thoughts about it, and the influences from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s are felt throughout. Gallagher has delivered an album that crosses various musical time periods fluidly, and in the end, feels both achingly familiar and brand new simultaneously.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds are currently on tour of North America with ‘90s rock legends Garbage.
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