I’ve been trying to think of the perfect word that sums up Elbow’s latest release Flying Dream 1; I’ve been racking my brains for hours that have turned into days, days that have turned into weeks, I’ve had sleepless nights, tossing and turning, fevered dreams searching for that perfect word, I’ve sought help from the world’s greatest thinkers, prophets, professors, poets…and then it hit me, like a lightning bolt to the chest, the word that sums up the Manchester bands ninth studio album is so simple that I don’t know why it didn’t come to me sooner, it sums the LP up so perfectly that I feel like I have struck oil…the perfect word to describe this album is…lovely.
From the opening title track Flying Dream 1, Elbow’s leading man Guy Garvey’s powerfully soft delivery is accompanied by a surreal, sombre piano alongside light, shuffling drums and a watchful cello. Elbow have created a sphere of beautiful, whimsical sounds that mirror the lyrics being sung: “Like I’ve always known / Deep in my bones / Step into the air / Step into the air.” The floating quality of the song takes over the listener, it carries us along as if we were gently sailing above. The London Contemporary Voices harmonies that accompany Garvey create a soft freefall of sound, a delicate sound that paints a picture of warmth for things to come. The track shows a band in sync, a band with a common goal. It’s hard not to listen to this song and think that it is exquisite.
Garvey has cited that the album takes inspiration from PJ Harvey’s Is This Desire? and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks; these quiet, ethereal offerings have marked themselves deeply in Flying Dream 1’s aesthetic. The LP is a much gentler affair than previous Elbow releases; gone are the festival darlings of 2008’s Grounds for Divorce and One Day like This, what’s taken their place are songs moulded in sincerity. Written remotely during lockdown, each member composed music at their homes in Manchester and London and exchanged ideas over Zoom. The Bury band dismissed small talk in favour of getting to the heart of the songs. The album was then completed and recorded at an empty Theatre Royal in Brighton.
An empty theatre is the ideal setting for the patient songs that make up Flying Dream 1. Playing to a vacant crowd allowed the band to explore melancholy to great effect and establish a contemplative space. The lyrics are retrospective and solitary; Garvey sings about his past, everyday life and love. Red Sky Radio (Baby Baby Baby) includes the lyrics “Roll me a scandalous / I’ll boil us some eggs / Put a movie on we can talk all across,” these glimpses into domesticity romanticise the simple nature of love. Is It a Bird asks “Is it a bird? / Is it a plane? / Or is it a jettison, beautiful warrior’s soul?” Garvey is questioning the unknown certainty of his past, of what it was like when he was at his most passionate. The album is romantic in feel and romantic in subtly.
The orchestral wall of sound that is synonymous with Elbow’s sound has been replaced with restraint that allows the bands musicality to shine. The second single to be released Six Words absorbs us with its simplicity. Garvey’s sentimental lyrics particularly in the chorus act as stream of consciousness outpouring of what love means to the singer; propelled with minimalist restraint the song builds and builds to a whisper: “Look who loves me / Look who loves me, I know / I know the view from up on top of the world.” The romantic feel of the song pours into the entirety of the album and makes for a whimsical listen. Flying Dream 1 manifests an aura of minimalist creativity that demands a lovely patient listen.