I’ve stumbled upon Elbow some years ago, when The Seldom Seen Kid, a true masterpiece, won the Mercury Prize in 2008. All their albums are special in some different way, but that one simply belongs in a class of its own. The Seldom Seen Kid Live at Abbey Road was released in 2009, a superb performance at the famous studio recorded with the BBC Orchestra. That one convinced me that the band is special, so I began listening to their discography and grew very fond of it. Step by step, little by little, I finally found myself in the middle of a packed O2 Arena during their March 29 gig in London, part of the 2011 Build a Rocket Boys! tour. It was completely mind-blowing. Looking back, I strongly believe that it’s still my favourite concert I’ve ever been to. Somehow, on another level, I even enjoyed it more than last year’s Roger Waters’ The Wall or the Peter Gabriel concert in Berlin, and let me tell you that isn’t easy. Also, since I delicately started to brag about these great concerts I was fortunate to attend, the photos I’m going to use will also show you just how far back I was standing.
Since I saw them back then, Elbow have been working on all kinds of different projects; they wrote BBC’s theme for the 2012 Summer Olympics, also performing during the opening ceremony in London, they released Dead in the Boot, a compilation album full of b-sides and non-album tracks, and Live at Jodrell Bank, a great live album and DVD. As you can see, none of these materials are a brand new album, but after all, you can’t really say they stood around doing nothing, can you?
Their latest release was announced a while ago, in 2012, while the band had started working at the Real World Studios. For those of you who don’t know, Peter Gabriel transformed a small house he owns in England into an incredible studio; it drives you crazy just by looking at the pictures. Working there must be cool beyond imagination. At first, the band said that the album would be a little more progressive and experimental, but in the end it turned out to be more than that, naturally taking another shape.
I believe it’s possible that the passing of time, subsequently becoming wiser and more mature, made the band develop something with quite a distinctive character. Another important aspect is Guy Garvey splitting up with his long-term girlfriend, which befell during the making of the album and led to him changing lyrics and having different ideas for the songs.
“This Blue World” comes in very spontaneously, it’s one of the best suited first songs on any album I ever listened to. The song has a few moments when it seems to continue “The Night Will Always Win”, but played a lot calmer, more internalized, almost whispered.
“Charge” completely changes the register and speeds up the pace. The verse tune easily gets under your skin and makes you think of the older albums. The greatest thing here is the theme played by the string section of the Hallé Orchestra from Manchester, beautifully integrated with the song. The title is also the name of the second beer Elbow has created with the help of Robinsons Brewery, after previously releasing Build a Rocket Boys! Since I already have the first one, I’m looking forward to completing my memorabilia collection in April when an old friend will be bringing me some Charge beer from the UK. Having this detail in mind, the lyrics start to leave a different taste in your mouth.
I am electric with a bottle in me
Got a bottle in me
And glory be, these fuckers are ignoring me
I’m from another century
The first part of “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette” is by far the album’s most post-britpop part. It has rhythm changes and hooks that make you bang your head and which remind everybody that these guys were once young and composed stuff like “Fallen Angel”, “Leaders of the Free World” or “Grounds for Divorce”. The transition towards the second part is sudden, yet very natural, with the vocals in the background transposing you to a different place.
“New York Morning” is a love letter to the city Guy Garvey moved to for a while, mainly for writing on the new King Kong musical. In a way, this experience invigorated the whole album – I truly believe that for this latest Elbow release Garvey wrote his best lyrics thus far. It can’t just be a coincidence. Moving to New York was also a good opportunity for him to start over, wandering about and getting inspired without him being recognized on the street. It was simply a luxury he couldn’t afford in the UK anymore.
The next segment, consisting of “Real Life (Angel)”, “Honey Sun”, “My Sad Captains” and “Colour Fields”, is nicely defined, the songs feel very good, but don’t really stand out. You listen to them, they are easy to remember and are beautifully overlaid, but they show us once again that the beginnings and endings are somehow always more important and memorable.
“The Take Off and Landing of Everything”, which is the next to last song, has a very roomy, spacious and rich feeling, with the vocals being some sort of an echo. After hearing it for the first time I remember thinking it was strangely mixed, but that’s actually the whole beauty of it. I can barely wait to see how this song will turn out as 20.000 people sing it from the top of their lungs. Also, I don’t know why but this vaguely reminds me of The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s “Just Like Honey”.
The quiet mix of voice and bass used on “The Blanket Of Night” is just the most beautiful way to end this album, it’s the perfect epilogue. The line “Carry Her, Carry Me” was for a short while the album’s working title, but I’m glad they chose The Take Off and Landing of Everything instead; I believe it’s better suited, symbolically, to the changes we go through in life.
Elbow‘s sixth studio album marks a fitting and grown-up stage for the band after The Seldom Seen Kid and all the success that it brought. They needed almost six years, numerous projects and life changes to release a new material, profound and of substance, which can last on its own.
- Probably Guy Garvey's best Elbow lyrics thus far
- It follows the band's recipe for success, but something is different in a good way
- Much more solid, overall, than their previous record
- The middle section doesn't feel as good and engaging as the rest