Release Date: Apr 12, 2011
Record label: Polydor
It takes patience and memory to follow Elbow. The group first got together in 1990, but didn’t realize an album until 2001’s Asleep in the Back. The album received a Mercury Music Prize nomination, but the band would have to wait most of the decade before actually winning, for 2008’s Seldom Seen Kid. It took three years for the follow-up album, Build a Rocket Boys!, to be released.
Specificity in art is a sign of bravery. Anyone who obfuscates what they mean (either for lack of something to say or for fear of being taken to task) is not only a coward but probably not worthy of the tag ‘artist’ in the first place. This is one of many small but important details that inform [a]Elbow[/a]’s fifth album and place them in a different league to other purveyors of ‘emotional atmospheric rock’.For example, [a]Coldplay[/a]’s [b]‘Viva La Vida’[/b] sounds impressive, but their songs might as well be about [b]Chris Martin[/b]’s guilt over naming his children after fruit for all the lyrical clues we are given.
A few of years ago I had my brush with Elbow: I swayed happily at the front of a sea of spectators as they played through their festival set; giddy on a lot of music and a little lager – underage drinking was a crime, never a sin – I loosed every line in irrepressible anticipation, any regard for my ungrateful companionship all but abandoned. The song ends and Guy Garvey booms cheerfully over the speaker, a grateful MC to a humble audience “You look like the happiest man in the world!” he looks to my section of the front… silence, the crowd peers ceaselessly for the unnamed protagonist, I look myself – eagerly waiting for some witty yet unheard retort… silence, now broken “No you, at the front there, yeah you” as I look uncertainly back to the stage – realization dawning, companionship now applauding, “What’s your name?” My response is drowned in the roaring hush of 10,000 people; he mediates “I can’t hear you. You look like an Alf, I’ll call you Alf; this next songs for you, Alf.
The shelves of your local newsagent currently offer at least one unlikely sight. A chubby, bearded man in a suit stares out from the cover of Britain's biggest-selling music magazine. His face, which looks, perhaps, a little older than his 37 years, is arranged in the kind of lugubrious expression that was once the trademark of a fellow Greater Mancunian, Les Dawson: he has the air of a man who's just been given a court summons rather than top billing.
Like other American listeners, I came late to Elbow, paying little attention to the veteran Manchester band until picking up on the U.K. buzz surrounding their fourth album, 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid. What was revelatory (to me, at least) about the record was the band’s ability to seamlessly fuse the cerebral and the visceral on irresistible songs like “Grounds for Divorce,” with its psyche-probing lyric resolving into cathartic, wall-rattling power chords, and “The Bones of You,” with its deeply soulful vocal and delectably slinky groove.
Considering that Elbow formed in 1991 and then waited 10 years to release its debut album -- 2001's Asleep in the Back -- it's no surprise the band sounds so damn patient on record. And in the wake of the break-out success of 2008's Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid, that approach has helped the Manchester outfit well. Build a Rocket Boys! shows no anxiety at following the band's most successful record, no stagnant need to repeat that success or tense urgency to top it.
In the introduction to his 2007 book, Teenage: The Creation Of Youth 1875-1945, Jon Savage explains the impact that discovering the work of American psychologist G. Stanley Hall had on his efforts to chart youth culture in its various guises. As Savage writes, Hall’s work ‘contained a prophetic manifesto for the post-war youth culture that was still half a century away when he wrote.
Elbow had already been together for nearly a decade when their debut album, Asleep in the Back, dropped in 2001. Unhip even among the unhip bands vying to become the "next Radiohead," playing the underdog worked out well for Elbow-- both at the start and over the span of three critically acclaimed and modestly successful records. After 2008's The Seldom Seen Kid took home the Mercury Prize, Elbow earned platinum status in Britain.
Whenever an artist has a breakthrough success, the temptation to churn out more of the same can be almost overwhelming. If it worked once, it’s sure to work again, right? That’s the situation Elbow was in when they released The Seldom Seen Kid to overwhelming critical praise in 2008. Yet, to the relief of many fans, singer Guy Garvey wipes out any such notions of rehash less than five minutes into their latest album, Build a Rocket Boys!.
Since 2001, English band Elbow have evolved into purveyors of novel and well-crafted art-rock. Each of their four previous records has shown growth and expansion as they have garnered awards, and a reputation, for creating astoundingly engaging and powerful, yet superbly sublime and atmospheric rock. On first listen, though, Build A Rocket Boys! may seem an exception rather than the rule.
They continue to make music that sounds like it cares how you are. Fraser McAlpine 2011 Everyone relax; this is not the album where sudden acclaim goes to Guy Garvey’s head. There are no songs about touring, pressure, intrusive journalists or settling old scores. The band have not taken the long-deserved, but still surprising success of The Seldom Seen Kid as a mandate for startling sonic reinvention, nor have they crafted 12 identikit stadium anthems in the vein of One Day Like This, so that TV editors will have fresh stock from which to make programme trails.
Lush, ascendant, electronically detailed eight-minute opener "The Birds" sets the stage for this English quintet's fifth LP and first since 2008's Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid. Contemporarily, think Radiohead. In archaic terms, recall early ancestors Genesis, only without all the progressive clutter. The first time Guy Garvey says the album's title in "Lippy Kids," it's soft suggestion.