Elbow, The Take Off and Landing of Everything (Concord Music Group/Fiction Records, 3/3/2014)
Lots of bands spend time attempting to develop a ‘sound’ – that certain aural je ne sais quoi that lets the listener identify the author of the track within seconds. Arriving with the dread “critical favorite” tag and underdog status to groups like Radiohead on debut Asleep In the Back, Elbow have morphed into Mercury Prize winning stadium fillers (on the other side of the pond, at least) while developing and refining a sound that is uniquely theirs. From the opening bars of ‘This Blue World’, no doubt exists that The Take Off and Landing of Everything, the group’s sixth release, is an “Elbow record”.
Elbow’s ‘sound’ finds solace and profundity amidst melancholy and isolation; the wide-eyed optimism and hopefulness of desperation – the second chance just ‘round the corner. Love is found amongst the mire, but can pull you free or push you in further. People desire escape to a perceived nirvana projected through the camera obscura of the bottom of a pint or whisky glass – but find little changes if they manage to break free. Rather than kicking against the pricks, here a more sanguine response born of experience of the once bitten variety, rage mollified into equal parts bitter and sweet – as Garvey sings on album highlight “My Sad Captains” (perhaps influenced lyrically by the poem of the same name by Thom Gunn, which I discovered after searching the phrase), “[a]nd if it’s so we only pass this way but once/[w]hat a perfect waste of time”. A calmer version (though perhaps no less dissatisfied) of Arthur Seaton from Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, then. Foreboding bass lines and ponderous drums build to a catharsis buoyed by Garvey’s honeyed tones and words of encouragement.
Upon achieving the ‘sound’, bands continue at their best when using it as a launching point to stretch in different directions. Blithely settling into a groove, churning out album after album of the same energy and tone may continue to sell records, but rarely makes for revelatory (or even interesting) listening – familiarity breeding what it often does. Elbow are no different, and the parts of The Take Off… that really work – the propulsive ‘Charge’ (seemingly influenced by singer Guy Garvey’s collaborations with Massive Attack); the psychedelically tinged title track; the gorgeous, wordless transition from “Fly Boy Blue” to it’s better counterpart, “Lunette”; the syncopated rhythms underlying “Real Life (Angel)” – are those which prod and stretch at Elbow’s known palette. Garvey, in particular, is in fine voice throughout and, while his lyrics here don’t quite match the bon mots found on 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid, there are gems to be found.
I’ve been a great fan of this band since Asleep and, while not at the upper echelon of their catalogue (in no particular order, Asleep, The Seldom Seen Kid, and Cast of Thousands), The Take Off… has many outstanding moments and is a definite improvement on their last record, the overworked Build a Rocket Boys – where the band went long on rafter-scraping, singalong choruses at the expense of the deeper feeling and catharsis of their best work. Anyone coming to the band for the first time through this release would be well served going back to see how they got here.
I look forward to hearing the new songs, as well as old favorites, when I see Elbow live in a couple of weeks. Truly one of the best live bands I’ve seen.
Highlights include: “Charge”, “The Take Off and Landing of Everything”, “Real Life (Angel)”, “My Sad Captains”.