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Elbow - The people's band
on 7 March 2011
For the first time in their long career Elbow release an album as one of the mainstays of British music as opposed to a perennial aspiring contender. Its easy to forget that prior to the "Seldom Seen Kid" their album sales would not have been sufficient to fill a large Bury pub as opposed to a football stadium. Ok this is an exaggeration but in every sense Seldom Seen Kid was a game changer for a band who had looked like they might drift out music lauded with critical praise but lacking mass popular acclaim.
On this fifth album they quietly and confidentially produce a record, which shows a band comfortable in its own skin. It does have some echoes of their best album "Leaders of the Free World" which was packed with big songs and thoughtful ballads, which took a while to register with music lovers, but once they got it they were locked into the Elbow "cell" with the key thrown away. There was little chance of the band producing Seldom Seen Kid 2 not least since Guy Garvey has admitted that the lead up to the album consciously felt "like a last-chance effort last time," and as a result they threw in everything and the kitchen sink. Pressure comes in different forms and follow ups can be equally tricky but on "Build a rocket boys" Elbow have succeeded and more.
All Elbow albums can take months to digest and on the first listens the overwhelming impression is of a slow burn. From there on the songs reveal themselves and even at this early stage if Elbow were to release a Greatest Hits album tomorrow at least four of the songs on here would be shoe in's. The most obvious is the gorgeous centerpiece "Lippy Kids" the lyrics of which contain the albums title and which is a poignant meditation on being young where Garvey reflects on "Stealing booze and down long hungry kisses/And nobody knows me at home anymore". It leads to that regretful questioning readily understood to all people over a certain age that "Do they know those days are golden"? "Lippy Kids" is worth the price of admission alone, but it is matched by "Dear Friends" which derives to be played on repeat at least ten times and was is in Garvey's words devised "in the middle of a US tour, telling my friends I was thinking of them that day and it made me feel at home". It is simply breathtaking and will strike chords with anyone missing friends or family. The other songs which screams out on initial listens are the gentle acoustic heartbreak love song "Jesus was a Rochdale girl" which rolls along at a snails pace and is beautifully sung by Garvey while Open Arms is a classic Elbow ballad which I can't wait to hear live at their Cardiff gig later this month.
Throughout the album Craig Potter and the rest of the band weave those intricate haunting melodies and when they step up to the plate it's a force of nature, The big opener "The Birds" literally explodes at 5 minutes and is beautifully reprised later with their piano tuner John Mosley bringing an aged fragility to the song. In between you get the second hypnotic Elbow tribute to the late Brian Clancy "The night will always win" the more expansive mood guitar shifts of High ideals" and the swampy urban blues of the punchy "Neat little rows".
"Build a rocket boys" sees the quality control button on full. Granted it does not represent a huge departure for the band and "With Love" backed by many voices is a bit Elbow by formula. These are nonetheless nit picking complaints since Elbow has hit a winning formula but it is not one of either U2 bombast or Coldplay repetition. Elbow is a band where the music is about shade, nuances and beauty, as such "Build a Rocket boys" is a seductive treat and is destined to be lodged at the top of the album charts for a very long time.