Elbow ‘The Take Off and Landing of Everything’ – Review

26 Mar

I think I’m right in saying that Elbow were the first band in its history that NME gave 9 stars to four consecutive times. Even Oasis and Arctic Monkeys never recieved that kind of treatment. While I’ve never rated them anywhere near that highly, it does point to the band’s unwavering consistency over the past decade. Elbow just aren’t ever likely to make a bad record, certainly not now. At the same time I find it equally unlikely that they’re ever going to make an exciting record, or an essential one. They’re too stuck in their ways and too middle-aged. ‘The Take Off and Landing of Everything’ is an album all about being stuck in your ways and middle-aged, so in a sense it’s the perfect Elbow album for 2014.

Guy Garvey wrote these songs in a trendy NYC café, in between sipping cups of coffee and chatting to hipsters. If you know anything about Guy Garvey you’re probably struggling to picture this odd scene, and that sense of dislocation seeps into the music and lyrics. ‘Glory be, these fuckers are ignoring me/ I’m from another century’ he sings on ’Charge’. Guy can’t relate to his surroundings or the young people in it, and they can’t relate to him. Elbow’s last album, ‘Build a Rocket Boys’, was about remembering youth from the distance of middle age; in part, this album is about engaging with youth in the present. It’s about coming to terms with being out of touch.

Part of the album is set in that ultimate, modern, sceptical, city-scape; New York City. On New York Morning’ he paints it as a ‘modern Rome where folk are nice to Yoko’. Here anxieties and tension reign over Guy, and he’s never quite sure of what he’s doing or if it’s the right thing to do. ‘I’m having a baby, second thoughts, scotch, dinner and someone’s dancing on the box.’ It now transpires that Garvey was going through a break up when he wrote the album, but it’s about nothing as straightforward as that. Here he seems to be breaking up with himself, and his surroundings, as much as anyone else. “My newest friends have forgotten my name / But so have I..”

As with all the best Elbow lyrics, the mundane is elevated to the sublime. New light is shone on every day objects and emotions. The language is delicate and ambiguous, it stretches in unusual directions. “Another night beside myself would finish me Give us G & T and sympathy” he asks at one point (the internal rhyming and alliteration is a constant source of pleasure on this album). It is almost an album of discontent and crisis, but you’re left with a feeling of hope and enthusiasm, and I think that’s down to the (as always) sweepingly anthemic music. Guy always sounds troubled, but he’s giving you the wink; this is music to lift you out of that headspace not keep you stuck in the rut.

It’s an album that by virtue of its wordy content, demands that you sit down and LISTEN to it. Yet unfortunately, for the very same reason it’s a complete chore to sit down and listen to. So much emphasis is placed on the lyrics that the music feels relegated and lacking in comparison. As I say, it’s typically anthemic and uplifting most of the time, but songs are elasticated and seem to take an age to get going and wind down. What really happens over the 7 minutes of ‘Blue Morning’ or the 6 minutes of ‘Fly Boy Blue’? To often the music chugs and drags the songs down.

Ultimately it’s the stately melodies and captivating lyrics that leave the biggest impression, and there are some of Guy Garvey’s best here. If this was musically more focused and energised ‘The Take Off and Landing of Everything’ would have been a great album. As it stands it’s one of those albums it’s easy to admire but difficult to actually, y’know, listen to.

7/10

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