For the better part of their 22 year existence, the same five members of Manchester darlings Elbow had gone largely unnoticed. Then four albums in, they finally garnered some richly deserved attention with 2008’s sublime The Seldom Seen Kid and with the limelight finally cast upon them, they dutifully followed up with the joyous Build A Rocket Boys in 2011. After another three years of life, love and everything in between, this month Elbow check in with their adoring and ever-growing fan-base once more for their stellar sixth album The Take Off and Landing of Everything.
It’s probably worth mentioning off the bat that during the album’s production, singer Guy Garvey separated with his long-term partner. However, for a man who looks like he’s been in more than his fair share of pub brawls, Garvey has always been a truly hopeless romantic. If a line like “While three chambers of my heart beat true and strong with love for another/The fourth, the fourth is yours forever” from the slow-building opening track This Blue World doesn’t convince you that this is a man who can bottle heartache and serve it to you with a smile, (Not unlike the two custom beers the band have brewed and sold in the last few years) nothing will.
Over the course of their six albums, Elbow (particularly keyboardist/producer Craig Potter) has developed a keen sense of restraint and poise with their production and overall sound. Not to say they don’t explode with a rich string section like on second track Charge, but they just have an uncanny knack for knowing exactly when and where any part of a song’s arrangement should be introduced. And more importantly, when it shouldn’t.
Next up is Fly Boy Blue/Lunette which was released back in January and starts as a more urgent Waltz #2 by Elliott Smith with all Garvey’s vocals in three-part harmony. This builds before giving way to an entire shift in feel for the song before descending into more of his stunningly unguarded lyrics about getting older: “Mother forgive me, I still want a bottle of good Irish whiskey/And a bundle of smokes in my grave”. From Morrissey to Noel Gallagher and beyond, Manchester’s always had a gift for producing gorgeously sad lyricists.
First single New York Morning is an ornate anthem about the magic Garvey experienced during a stint living in Brooklyn for most of 2012. It encapsulates a lot of the wide-eyed cheekiness Elbow expertly convey at their happiest (“Oh my giddy aunt New York can talk!”) and it provides a great contrast to a lot of the heavier themes explored elsewhere on The Take Off and Landing of Everything.
Real Life could have been written either side of Garvey’s breakup or even for someone else entirely, but one thing is clear – he’s been through the wringer and has a profound ability to make peace with it. Outside the context of the song, the line “Time alone with the pounding of your heart/As it starts to heal/You’ll find a better mirror in another” has to be some of the sincerest post-relationship advice anyone has ever uttered and the rest of the song continues this sentiment.
The minimal, whispered acoustic guitar and eerie backing vocals of Honey Sun sound a little like a tipsy Crosby Stills & Nash-via-Massive Attack and with a rigid drum machine, it’s made all the more spooky. Whereas the actually Shakespearean My Sad Captains (the title is pulled from Antony and Cleopatra) is a beautiful, carousing ode to true friends and the “gaudy nights” spent with them.
Colour Fields is a cute, hushed tune about the plight of the prettiest girl in town whereas the absolute opus of a title track unfolds over the course of its seven minutes with all the scope and wonder we’ve come to expect from Elbow. It’s largely played over a single chord, giving it an experimental Tomorrow Never Knows vibe that they’ve reverently captured without sounding derivative.
Like most Elbow records, The Take Off and Landing of Everything ends on an intimately gentle note with The Blanket of Night. Traversing between sparse double bass and an what sounds like a beautiful explosion in a synthesizer factory, it explores the now universal issue of asylum seekers with compassion and love (or “loov”, if put in their northern brogue) and without a hint of anger or piousness.
Full disclosure, I’m a massive fan of Elbow and I maintain any year they release a new album is going to be a good one and as ever, they technically haven’t put a foot wrong. They’re always wonderfully exploring new sonic territory and reinventing ways to utilize the skills of the same five members who came together in 1992. Coupled with the achingly stark honesty in every lyric Guy Garvey ever penned, Elbow have just cracked the code for people who want to feel good about feeling bad at an adult level of emotional maturity.