Elbow Build A Rocket Boys!(Fiction Records) Buy it from Insound
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.” And with no more time to waste, he begins.
That’s the way I remember it, through the haze of nostalgia for a summer that erupted to life, with The Seldom Seen Kid as its anthem. It seems that Guy Garvey and co. are also basking in the warming glow of their own recollections on their fifth record, Build A Rocket Boys! We’ve even heard murmurings that it harks back to the darker tone of their first record; and while it is more akin to their debut, it never really gives the ranging control to its rhythms that made Asleep In The Back so ominously enthralling. Neither does Garvey have the National Philharmonic on speed-dial it seems; The Seldom Seen Kid was a one off in its ubiquitous sauntering string-sections and pompous percussion. Build A Rocket Boys! is a different, subtler blend of the two, the tone more ambiguous: calmer and more sensitive, on the one hand fondly affectionate and on the other despondently yearning. When you put it like that it sounds perfect: a fitting way to pack out a record of unbridled reminiscence, and there’s certainly some truth to such a suggestion.
Opener Birds sums this mesh of old and new at its best. It boasts a bold, dignified refrain across the steadied percussion, before building to the orchestrated crescendo so often implemented on the last record. It’s fortunate then that there is no sense of concession, no to and fro of combating, stylistic confusion. The single Neat Little Rows for example is all simmering urgency but one deftly leashed to a bright glockenspiel riff – it’s certainly a hybrid of sorts and it’s not brilliant, but it’s no compromise.
The theme continues unabated, until finally they blink on The Birds (reprise) – the words of the opener now sung by an old man – it strays beyond being a timely and touching nod to our sense of mortality, and is instead just too blatant an advert for the record’s sense of time and transience.
The album’s highlights are Elbow through and through: The Night Will Always Win calls over chiming pianos “I miss your stupid face / I miss your bad advice / I tried to clothe your bones with scratchy super eights, exaggerated stories and old tunes”; the tones contrast so elegantly across the record where for example Garvey lusts after a misspent youth on Lippy Kids, asking “Do they know those days are golden?” and detailing of his happy regret that “I never perfected that simian stroll”.
Since The Seldom Seen Kid’s release it seems everyone and everyone’s mum are now fans of the band. And though Build A Rocket Boys! is a strong album, it never quite matches the rampant grace of that record and in many ways caters to their more tested demographic. It is not the finest album that Elbow have made (that honour in my mind still goes to their debut), but, I suspect, it is one that ‘everyone and everyone’s mum’ will be glad they did: one to tempt those new legions to look back to what went before - and as such that will be its most significant victory.10 March, 2011 - 21:12 — Joe Iliff