Thursday, 27 October 2011

Elbow: Build A Rocket Boys

It’s been almost four years since One Day Like This opened the world’s eyes and ears to Elbow. Having survived being dropped by various labels through sheer force of will, it was gratifying for their long-term fans to finally see them recognised, rewarded and welcomed into British music’s most beloved. So it comes as no surprise that having achieved success gradually and on their own terms, their fourth album is a continuation rather than a reinvention of their sound.

It’s Guy Garvey’s warmly sonorous voice and tenderly nostalgic lyrics which give Elbow their distinctive sound and both are at the forefront here. Build a Rocket Boys’ ruminations on childhoods lost, the reminiscing of the elderly and the local community centre are lyrical themes delivered in Garvey’s touchingly simple phrasing.

The album’s emotional centrepoint is Lippy Kids, Garvey’s joyously melancholic look at the kids on street corners affecting a ‘simian stroll’ in a style which aped his own clumsy attempts at ‘kerbstone cool’. It’s a song which will resonate with anyone who looks back fondly on their teenage years. Simple piano plays background to the swooning vocal as Garvey wonders whether ‘they know those days are golden?’ and implores them to ‘build a rocket, boys’. It’s significant that there is rarely any regret or bitterness in Elbow’s recollections of the past: this warmth and generosity is apparent not just in their music but in every interview they give or (in Garvey’s case) every radio show they present.

Build a Rocket Boys might actually be less musically adventurous than its predecessors. There’s certainly little sign of sweeping, multi-layered epics like Newborn or the tub-thumping of Grounds for Divorce: Neat Little Rows is the only track with any real bite. But some of the arrangements are much more complicated than they first seem. Opener The Birds is probably the most elaborate track with its blend of slide guitar and surprisingly funky keyboard (Garvey has admitted to occasional scatting in Elbow’s dim and distant past). Sadly a late reprise of this song misses the mark completely as an elderly replaces Garvey in a move which sees the album stray into mawkish sentimentality. It’s the only misstep on a carefully crafted collection.

Elbow are a band which wears its heart on its sleeve. They feed cleverly on their own past, absorbing and interpreting the smallest of episodes and the most fleeting of feelings into beautifully yearning and melodic tunes which say little but mean a lot. Build A Rocket Boys is the latest in a back catalogue of mature meditations on life and love that Elbow fans will want to wrap themselves in time and again. Superb stuff.

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