Despite their long history, Elbow’s fifth album, ’build a rocket boys!’, has almost been treated as their difficult second album, such has been the worry about them selling out their style to put bums on seats. There was no need to worry in a way, Elbow’s big hearted tunes were always going to carry on to a bigger audience, and at the gig I saw them at a few days ago there was weird mix of old and young at the gig, whom were extremely polite but also enthusiastic and bereft of the idiots that often sour being at the front. This balancing act of remaining artistic credulity while appealing to stadium sized audiences is a difficult one, and Elbow’s deftness of touch pulling it off is commendable.
Despite this, there have been tradeoffs with the new album, and while their accommodation of their new position has produced some great songs, there does seem to be a diminished anger and fire in the songs. On High Ideals Garvey sings “the fire in my chest / has turned to acid at the very best” perhaps relevantly. The Grounds for Divorce style guitars return for Neat Little Rows but that seems almost a perfunctory hark back to the song, even if it is good in and of itself. The rest of the album remains pretty low key musically, simmering electronics on ‘The Night Will Always Win’ and strings on Open Arms. You are left wanting something to challenge, some element of the music to surprise you.
The album’s start is highly promising, if slow, 8 minute 'The Birds' followed by the 6 minute 'Lippy Kids' hardly promise a snappy album, but they are both very well constructed, the music of the former explodes towards the end, whereas the gentle Lippy Kids is quietly spectacular. Later highlights include the subdued and nostalgic ‘Jesus is a Rochdale Girl’ which has some of Garvey’s best writing to date. High Ideals is a grower, and the final track 'Dear Friends' is soppy in that good way only Elbow can really do, it's the musical equivalent of being pleasantly drunk at 2am in the company of friends in front of an open fire.*
While musically unadventurous, it is also solid, and occasionally brilliant, and Guy Garvey’s song writing is still pretty superb, it’s very warm and pulls off being incredibly positive without getting too cheesy. When it does veer towards the cheesy, particularly on ‘Open Arms’ it seems so shameless it gets away with it, though it is also perhaps the sort of sing-a-long chorus Guy Garvey can slightly lazily write in his sleep. It is an album that won’t blow anyone away, and in the end probably doesn’t quite match Leader’s of the Free World or Seldom Seen Kid in quality directly, but it gets under the skin and rewards plenty of return listens. Now to wait for their promised Shoegaze album.
Must Listen to Tracks:
Jesus is a Rochdale Girl
*credit to Neil :P