Elbow: The Take Off and Landing of Everything
The Take Off and Landing of Everything
Time was when the onset of 30 would cause bands to lock themselves away, grow beards and put away childish things. Now they wait till they’re 60 to do all that.
Elbow, on the other hand, have always sounded like they’re in permanent midlife crisis. Now, as Guy Garvey & co approach 40, it’s no surprise to find them going back to the low-key mood of their debut, Asleep in the Back, released back when they were just a bunch of spotty young curmudgeons.
With more than a decade’s worth of experience behind them, which has seen them become the elder statesmen of indie, Elbow plainly feel they’ve reached a milestone of sorts. They’ve got the Mercury prize (for 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid), they’ve got the respect of their peers, and they’ve held the musical high ground with 2011’s Build a Rocket Boys!.
The album’s title, says Garvey, refers to the various events and changes in the band members’ lives – marriages, break-ups, births, bereavements . The themes tackle “some of the big and little, positive and negative, life experiences that any group of men approaching 40 can expect”. For Garvey, it was the end of his relationship with his longtime girlfriend (novelist Emma Jane Unsworth).
Elbow’s approach to songwriting and recording has changed, though not in a Radiohead-like radical experimental way. They used to develop songs as a group; now individuals bring songs to the table. So you’ve got guitarist Mark Potter writing Honey Sun , bassist Pete Turner building up Colour Fields using iPad apps (now, how on earth do they work?), and drummer Richard Jupp taking the helm on the paired songs Fly Boy Blue/Lunette.
Luckily it works, probably due to the unifying tone of Garvey’s lyrics; if the album lacks punch, it certainly packs a caress, as well as the odd Judas kiss. Anyone expecting a Grounds for Divorce or One Day Like This will be disappointed, but those who appreciate Elbow’s ability to suspend a moment in mid-air will find plenty to while away the time here.
Not that there aren’t a few standouts among the 10 songs. This Blue World is an expansive opener, surfing on a skittering organ and lightly marching percussion, and lyrics about the “universe in rehearsal for us”. Charge is a tad too splenetic, Garvey spitting out the lyrics “Glory be, these fuckers are ignoring me” over a drunken electro beat. New York Morning, featuring former Doves singer Jimi Goodwin, is a fine addition to that city’s collection of love letters. My Sad Captains is a toast/lament for loyal drinking budds, a dolorous brass band providing a woozy backing. And while the title track is hardly a climax, it does provide a neat seven-minute summing up of the story so far, before wrapping it all up in closing track The Blanket of Night.
Elbow are not soaring here – they’re in a holding pattern, but cruising with enough grace to avoid the danger of crashing. elbow.co.uk
Download: New York Morning, Fly Boy Blue/Lunette, The Take Off and Landing of Everything, My Sad Captains