Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow (Downtown / Cooperative Music)
There must be something about growing up in Manchester that helps create so many incredible bands. Elbow is one of them, a band that on their latest and greatest have included a string section and the local Hallé Youth Choir.
Keyboardist Chris Potter produced the album at Doves’ studio in Cheshire and at the Big Room at Salford’s Blueprint Studios where their previous two albums were also crafted. The album is sequenced as a journey, with their longest song ever, The Birds opening the album as sort of an overture to the story. Guy Garvey draws you into the narrative with the line “The birds are the keepers of our secrets” as the band plays along quietly, Potter’s keys played right along with the vocals, before long beeping synths change the mood as deep strings churn in the background building to a cathartic plateau with violins and Garvey showing his range with upraised voice.
Lippy Kids follows with a hesitant piano plunk, then a sweeping vocal chorus lends their “oohs” for maximum nostalgia as Garvey sings lyrics like looking at faded childhood snapshots, bring up memories long buried. With Love proceeds into more playful territory, a plucked guitar run accompanying Garvey’s high voice along with handclaps and gang backing vocals making for a riotous sing-along.
Neat Little Rows puts some machismo into the mix with Garvey singing through a gritty filter, the guitars distorted and dirty, advancing into a heavenly chorus with chiming keyboards and a cathartic ending. The Night Will Always Win is slightly reminiscent of So Long, Farewell from The Sound of Music, only sadder, with whistling keyboards and Garvey’s vocals resigned yet wonderful and a farting tuba playing counterpoint.
Dear Friends starts out deliciously tear-inducing, piano, guitar and drums open slowly as Garvey smokily croons “Dear friends, you are angels and drunks, you are maji. You are the stars I navigate home by”. Backing vocals pull you up as the bass guitar grounds you. The song fades out with a wistful echoing horn.
Build A Rocket Boys! is evidence of Elbow’s maturation as musicians, carried out with a youthful whimsy and sense of joy.
(Review by Bret Miller)