Most of my blogging is nostalgic in tone, but now I’m getting back into the groove of writing about music, here’s my thoughts on a new album that’s at number five in the UK LP charts this week.
Last weekend the new Elbow album, The Take Off And Landing Of Everything, was a constant companion on my walks with the dog, and I’ve no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who likes to pause for reflection amidst an earful of melody. Singer Guy Garvey suggested in interviews before its release that Elbow was heading off into an ‘experimental’ direction with this sixth album but I think he was kidding. ‘Experimental’ albums rarely hit the top of the album charts, let alone in their first week of release, though this achievement does suggest that throwing those curtains wide did its job rather well; perhaps too well since ‘One Day Like This’ has become so omnipresent as to be a contender for the next national anthem should Parliament ever agree with me that the wearisome ‘God Save The Queen’ has outstayed its welcome.
The ascendance of Elbow is to be welcomed. In another era they might have been pigeon-holed as prog rockers for their music is far from simple and takes on many hues, often within the same song, but this is to do them a disservice. Elbow’s music is far more listenable than the rather uneasy-on-the-ear stuff we used to call prog, and has far more depth than its close cousin, mood music.
Elbow are at their best when they throw in the whole caboodle behind a gorgeous melody, as on the title track of this new record, a great swirling wall of sound that fills the head with a rich and stately sense of grandeur, but Garvey pricks any hint of pomposity with his warm, avuncular voice and the endearing way he has of pronouncing words with a hard u in them so that cup comes out as coop and, even more pragmatically, fuckers as fookers.
The key to their sound comes not from guitars but from an array of keyboards that summon up a whole electronic orchestra, within which are more than a few sounds from no instrument I can immediately recognise. They favour bell-like chimes and by that I mean huge bells such as might be found in church spires, though despite the hint of spirituality in their chorales there isn’t a trace of the church in there. There are mournful trumpets, keening strings and pealing guitars that add to this ensemble sound with the kind of infinite sustain that David Gilmour conjured up on Pink Floyd epics like ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’.
Much of this tends to come together towards the end of longish songs, the opener ‘This Blue World’, ‘My Sad Captain’ and the title track, all of which have anthem-like codas that ice the cake already lovingly baked by Garvey’s thoughtful lyrics. ‘Blue World’ switches into another dimension at 4.30, with acoustic guitar chords drawn into the mix that are eventually joined by those chimes of endless sustain. On the title track the drums are held back until 1.25 when they enter to drive the song relentlessly forward; at around 3.30 a synthesiser joins in to add a lovely counter-melody over the top; and by the time we’re five minutes in that whole caboodle is in place, swirling and swaying like the rolling waves of a turbulent sea.
Without recourse to the lyrics – that’s the trouble with buying albums from iTunes – I’m not sure what Garvey is singing about half the time but his thoughtful delivery and the fact that he makes no attempt whatsoever to disguise that no-nonsense Northern accent leads me to believe his concerns are sincere, wholesome and, probably, politically left of centre. That said, I love his ‘perfect waste of time’ judgement in ‘Sad Captain’ and how he rhymes ‘net’ with ‘Lafeyette’ in a song whose title escapes me for the moment. Either way, he sounds eminently pubbable, and that’s OK with me.
Acts that are concerned with preserving their integrity after releasing hugely popular albums occasionally follow them up with something completely different, and in doing so risk alienating new fans in the process. In this regard some of the songs here, those featuring sparser instrumentation and trickier time signatures, are less likely to inspire the ubiquitous cigarette lighter moment, but The Take Off And Landing Of Everything is an album that is designed to be listened to in its entirety, its mood and pace as carefully constructed as you would expect from this group. Years of learning their craft have served Elbow well, as they always do. They are without doubt amongst the most expressive, listenable and generally appealing groups to have emerged this century.