Elbow; The Take Off and Landing of Everything.

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As a reviewer it is sometimes difficult to stand back from an album that you are reviewing and be objective, not let your personal feelings, or things that are happening in your own life colour your perception of the album, and make the review all about you, and not about the album. Sometimes however the parallels between the album and experiences you have had or are going through make this difficult, and it seems that with every track the artist has seen into your soul and written songs all about you. This is where I come into Elbows new long player, the Take off and Landing of Everything. For the uninitiated Elbow are a Lancashire based quintet of Guy Garvey, Mark Potter, Craig Potter, Richard Jupp and Pete Turner, and have been working as Elbow since 1997. The Take off and Landing of Everything is their 6th studio album, and whilst its hard for them to follow such masterpieces as Leaders of the Free World, The Seldom Seen Kid or even their captivating debut, Asleep in the Back, this album is as close to perfection as you’ll ever get.

Each song grows and builds to a climax, the opening languid This Blue World, with its sparse instrumentation, and Garvey’s beautiful soulful vocals is a superb way to start, pulling in some of their finest instrumentation.

Elbow as a band have never followed any particular trend or style, so you don’t get any drum and bass albums or obligatory cover album, they are a traditional album band in all senses of the world, with every song crafted, and every track placed where it needs to be for the most emotional impact.

This is also their second ‘break up’ album, while Leaders of the Free World was all about Garveys break up with DJ Edith Bowman, this documents his break up with Emma Jane Unsworth, which impacts on most of the tracks, whilst Garveys extended stay in New York in 2012 informs large parts of the album as well.

With this being an album that has parallels with circumstances I am going through at the moment, its hard to separate the public from the personal, and yet where it could have been depressing, wallowing in the darkness of the separation, this is the exact opposite. It’s elegiac, it’s beautiful, it is a musical and lyrical celebration of what was there, and what is gone. The album is beautifully and lushly orchestrated from the strings on Charge, to the fantastic musical interlude in Fly Boy Blue/Lunette, with Garveys observational lyrics reminiscent of the title track to Leaders of the Free World, whilst the musical backdrop is superb, the music growing, and building into a climactic crescendo. With most of the tracks over the 6-minute mark, each one has space to grow; there is nothing worse than a great track that is over before it’s even started. Luckily Elbow give the music the room to breath, maybe its something to do with the moors that surround their Manchester base, as this is nowhere near the sneering belligerence of the Gallagher brothers, or the demented drug crazed Madchester scene, this is closer to Joy Division or the Doves, where the wide open spaces of the moors, which gives you room to think, room to reflect, and needs music as epic as this to accompany it. If you’re looking for a quick hit and gone then this is the wrong place.

If you want an album that grows on you and gives you something new, then Elbow are the progressive band for you, and yes, I will describe Elbow as progressive, Andy Tillison once said to me that ‘Its music that does something, it moves from point A to point B… true progressive music takes you from one point to another’ and this is the strength of Elbow, their albums are like stories, snapshots of a moment, and something you need to hear from the beginning to the end. Albums as albums, not collections of songs arranged in order of downloading preference.

The beautiful, elegiac single New York Morning, with its fantastic lyrics, its epic build, and the massed chorus as it grows and grows is almost the perfect Elbow song, even with it’s line about ‘The modern Rome, where folks are nice to Yoko’ encapsulates the brilliance of Garveys observational lyrics, where he can juxtapose the huge and the small in one song, and bring it from the public to the personal is why he is one of the countries best, and underrated lyricists. His mournful, soulful vocals can sing heartbreak and make it seem elegiac, there is poetry and everyday life in his work, with the music and the work coming together so perfectly to create songs as artwork, beauty on the radio, perfection in a pop song.

Songs like Real Life (Angel), the metronomic, sparse minimal Honey Sun, with Garveys lyrics almost whispered almost confidentially, and the driving beat building up, piece by piece, with some great guitar work, it comes across halfway between a lullaby and a hymn, with all the power of the latter and the intimacy of the former.

The albums highlight, centrepiece and the song Elbow have been building up to is My Sad Captains (named after a quote from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra) with its mournful brass band, which seems a perfect accompaniment, (whether it’s a coincidence, or whether its in the blood I don’t know, but having grown up around the Colliery brass bands and St Georges day marches, there is something bittersweet about the sound of a well placed brass section, something Elbow I’m sure will be familiar with as well) and it’s moving lyrics about losing a group of drinking friends, happy and sad at the same time, remembering things past and mourning how they used to be, whilst celebrating what they had, lyrics like ‘if its true we only pass this way but once, what a perfect waste of time’ bring a lump to the throat and a smile to the face. The superb Colour Fields, again with it’s electronic, sparse arrangement and driving lyrics, leads into the title track, the longest track on the album, a 7 minute plus with some fantastic lyrics and vocals from Garvey, mixed and surrounded by an almost psychedelic musical accompaniment, with the band pushing themselves on this, and pulling together in a magisterial musical piece, with the fantastic musical coda appearing and building from about halfway in, as it ends with some beautifully multi layered vocals, and a brilliant build that fades out, leaving you wanting more.

The Blanket of Night puts the album to bed, and closes it in style, with the music and lyrics again working in harmony.

Elbow are one of the most consistently brilliant bands working in the world today, and have over a 14 year career, with the same members (that’s longer than the Beatles were active as recording artists) and have released 6 studio albums, 2 live albums and b-side collection (the amusingly named Dead in the Boot, a tongue in cheek parody of their debut Asleep in the Back) and show no signs of losing either quality control, or running out of something new to say. If you love epic music, that makes you think, makes you want to listen to more, and which can both pull on the heartstrings and cheer you up, then you need to discover Elbow. Start here and then see where the Take Off and Landing of Everything takes you.

3 thoughts on “Elbow; The Take Off and Landing of Everything.

  1. Beautiful review of a beautiful album, James. Garvey’s vocals remind me of Dead Can Dance’s Brendan Perry. I’m listening to it as rain comes down outside my window, and it fits perfectly.

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  2. James, I’m with Tad–beautiful all the way around. Love your writing. I must admit, I’m still getting used to the album. The last one grabbed me immediately. This one is taking a bit longer. But, I like it very much.

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