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Good things come to those who wait...
on 14 March 2014
Although I downloaded this from Amazon on the day of release, I was determined to bide my time in terms of posting a review, as I believe good music takes its own time to seep into your consciousness and reveal its true identity. One week on, I can tell you that The Take Off And Landing Of Everything has arms. They slowly but surely wrap themselves around you, caressing at first but becoming more and more of an embrace until you are enveloped in a thing of real beauty and warmth. I absolutely love the album this week, and I fully expect to love it even more next.
As an Elbow fan of some years (I bought Cast Of Thousands on its release), I have marvelled at the consistency and fortitude of the band, who have been together in the same form for over twenty years. Their well-deserved breakthrough came with The Seldom Seen Kid, Mercury Prize winner and sublime album of huge depth and artistic merit. I would place it in my top five albums of all time, but was less enchanted with Build A Rocket Boys! (never forget the exclamation mark!). 'One Day Like This' opened huge doors for Elbow, becoming a festival favourite, played to death on TV documentaries and sports programmes and I felt at times with Build A Rocket Boys! that the band were trying just a bit too hard to find another replacement anthem, rather than following their own creative path. Despite wonderful tracks such as The Birds, Lippy Kids, The Night Will Always Win and Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl, the album lacked consistency for me and I worried that Elbow had been caught up on the conveyor belt of commercial success like so many bands before them.
The Take Off And Landing Of Everything has totally removed any fears I may have had and at times even sounds like a return to some of the electronic, rhythmic patterns found on Asleep In The Back, albeit with a maturity and confidence that only time can bring. The album's opener 'This Blue World' may come as a surprise to many Elbow fans who have come to expect a powerful, driving opener (Any Day Now, Station Approach, Starlings, The Birds). This Blue World is much more restrained, but grows on you with each listen and the chorus has a nice hook that you'll find yourself humming all day. Apart from anything else, it's impossible not to love a song that contains the line 'When all the world is sucking on its sleeve'.
Charge is more in keeping with a traditional Elbow album opener, with a great melody laden over bass, drums and organ while Guy Garvey holds it all together with the usual powerful vocal - "I am the diehard with an empty dancecard propping up a young bar, I'm pouring oil in double time upon the troubled rising tide inside of me". The strings of the Hallé Orchestra that come in halfway through the track are totally unexpected and take the track to a new level. Oh, and don't forget to try the beer, either.
Fly Boy Blue / Lunette is two songs in one. Fly Boy Blue has Guy's muted vocals over Pete Turner's bass and interludes of guitar and horns "Someone's dancing on the box, a former MP and no one's watching". The track slows down and is then picked up with a rhythmic bass line that takes us into Lunette, a beautiful song that could only have come from Elbow, that tells of the vices of life - smoking and drinking and the effects they can have on a man in the autumn of his life. Towards the end of the song, Guy focuses briefly on the less harmful things that really matter in life "But there isn't words yet for the comfort I get, from the gentle lunette at the top, of the nape, of the neck, that I wake to". It's so personal and intimate that you almost feel like a guilty voyeur listening to it, but it's beautiful, absolutely beautiful and one of the album's highlights.
New York Morning is the first single from the album and is easily the most commercial sounding song in the collection. It's by no means my favourite track, but as with all Elbow songs, there is always much to commend, not least the lyrics "And oh my giddy aunt New York can talk, it's the modern Rome and folk are nice to Yoko". Real Life (Angel) is another slow burner, but reveals itself with each listen and Honey Sun could have been lifted straight off Asleep In The Back, with Guy very close to the microphone "I know a place where angels lace the lemonade, and I cannot stay where all the broken plans were made".
My Sad Captains is yet another song that may pass you by the first couple of times you listen to it, but is undoubtedly one of the album's real highlights. A beautiful melody and Guy's haunting vocal backed by soaring trumpets "Another sunrise with my sad captains, with who I choose to lose my mind, and if it's so we only pass this way but once, what a perfect waste of time". Colour Fields has a lovely 'spacy' feel to it, with Mark Potter's jangly guitar picking out around Guy's subdued vocal "Bright girl, dead town, open mouths for miles around, I still see you keeping those dough boys guessing".
The album's title track has a slight feel of psychedelica about it and reminds me slightly of Radiohead's Let Down from OK Computer. Guy's vocal, above driving guitar, is not so much to the fore as on other tracks and the song culminates in a multi-layered chorus "In a prayer to the take off and landing of everything good". The album finishes with The Blanket Of Night, a slow-moving number with another beautiful melody as Guy laments "The danger, that life should lead us here, my angel, could I have steered us clear".
So there we have it. The latest album from one of the most creative, consistent bands around. No anthems, just a collection of beautiful, melancholy songs that reveal new dimensions each time you listen. That the album is more laid-back than its predecessors, may well be down to the fact that Guy Garvey's 10-year relationship with his partner ended during the making of it. Guy puts his heart and soul into every song he writes and you can feel the pain and despair in some of the lyrics here. But that's what creativity is really about - putting down life experiences using pen, paintbrush, or in this case, music, to reveal your inner thoughts to the world. As a consequence, there are moments of real beauty here and I'd suggest that anyone listening to the album does so with the lyric sheet (provided with the CD) in front of them, which will add another dimension to the experience.
Special mention should also go to Craig Potter, who produced and mixed the album at Blueprint Studios, in Salford. The production is absolutely spot on. Never overly-polished, but every instrument is clearly audible and I honestly don't believe that Guy's wonderful voice has ever sounded better on any recording. The voice is exactly where it should be - upfront where it can weave and soar above the instrumentation, but with the slight rasp and gravel-like quality that keeps it real.
In truth, I would have given this four and a half stars if I had the option, as there are a couple of tracks that meander very slightly for me, but I just don't have it in me to give it four. On the face of it, it's just so much better than much of the music that's churned out these days and is yet another fine, thoughtful, polished piece of work from one of the best bands around. They haven't sold out, they're still very much here, and they're still making outstanding music that will stand the test of time. Wonderful.