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Elbow
The Take Off And Landing Of Everything Mick Middles , March 17th, 2014 11:27

Three years beyond the nostalgic somnolence of Build A Rocket Boys and things have changed. Guy Garvey is now beyond an amicable split from his partner of eight years and appears to have expanded his lyrical and geographical horizons. While the template here remains wistful and Pennine-longing, the dark greens and browns of Bury life are shot through with shards of New York City, where Garvey decamped for the post-relationship reflections that flavour this new outing. It is a curious coupling, Bury Market and The Bowery, although Manchester and Manhattan have always enjoyed a particularly prolific artistic vision. (The Hacienda was built after the Factory luminaries saw the life and vigour of New York's Paradise Garage).

The Take Off And Landing Of Everything is still cut from the same Lancashire cloth. The album was, for the most part at least, recorded within the comfy environ of Elbow's Blueprint Studios in Salford, tucked significantly close to Manchester city centre. There was also a working sojourn to Peter Gabriel's Real World in Box, near Bath, and that too flutters into a song title. More proof that Garvey is a man who senses the echoes and ghosts within buildings and inanimate objects. It was curiously comforting, last year when, amid all the rumours of his split to NYC, one could still encounter Garvey sitting outside a Deansgate bar, sipping his pint and soaking in the atmosphere seeming as staunchly "of the city", as the Refuge Building fifty years down the road. One wondered if some modern day Valette might paint him into history.

Most people are by now familiar with the lead-in single, 'New York Morning', a song built from a level melody which slowly climbs into your subconscious. Not the most obvious single but refreshingly the antithesis of The Seldom Seen Kid's 'One Day Like This'. There lay many hidden dangers within that vastly successful song, indeed; the most played wedding song of recent years. It threatened to push Elbow onto the vacuous plains occupied by the Coldplays and Snow Patrols of this world. For a while, perhaps it did. However the slight clunkiness of Build A Rocket Boys proved, in this context at least, something of a relief.

'New York Morning' is a simple, elegant reflection of "the modern Rome where people are nice to Yoko". It is rather like setting a Jan Morris travel essay to music, so beautifully do the lyric lines fold together. It is helpful, also, to watch the accompanying video which features Dennis and Lois, New York uber-fan scenesters since the glory days of Warhollian splendour. Slap bang in the centre of the video, if only for a split second, the image of Dennis and Lois' friend, Frank Sidebottom. It is an unlikely place to find him but more proof, perhaps, of the mid-Atlantic nature of this album.

'This Blue World' is the most typically Elbow track here, beginning with such a soft organ and the clipped battle between snare and tambourine. It ushers the album in with such delicacy and grace with Garvey casting nods to that ex partner. But this is not really a break up album. No 'Blood On The Tracks'. Even given its somnolent and lonely tones, it seems to celebrate the invigorating thrill of moving on; not necessary from a partner but from an era, an area and a feeling. The vibe is actually more positive than the look-back nature of, say, 'Jesus Was A Rochdale Girl'.

Only 'Charge' rallies effectively against this vibe. It seems filled with the cynicism of age and one senses the lyric was built around a local character, five decades away from his fantastic youth, scowling at the very hoodies who inhabited Build A Rocket Boys. I sense this person is, at this very moment, alighting a Bury bus en route to the pub, but I may be wrong. "Glory be these fuckers who are ignoring me," it spits mischievously. Ironically, the most effective lyric here appears offer a longing to sink down roots. On the elongated 'Real Life/Angel', a groove-train of nearly seven minutes, Garvey advises you to "Go straight back to the place where you first lost your balance and find your feet with the people that you love". A mature lyric indeed and light years beyond anything to be found on, say, Cast Of Thousands.

Apparently, on the advice of an engineer at Abbey Road who had closely scrutinised The Beatles at work, Elbow decided to separate their studio time during theses recordings. Allowing band members to enter into the songs at a later time. It is a trick that Martin Hannett always encouraged. "Never have a full band in the studio," he noted. "Always hold someone back". The idea is to invigorate the songs, and who could say it hasn't worked. For this is the freshest sounding Elbow album since the great and underrated Leaders Of The Free World. But while that was spiced by desperation, The Take Off And Landing Of Everything is the sound of a band prising an encouraging aesthetic edge from the sheer enjoyment of ageing. It bodes well for the future.

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