elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything [TrackList follows] – Fiction/Polydor – 45rpm double vinyl 3754769, 55:51 [3/11/14] ***1/2:
(Guy Garvey – vocals, strings and horns arranger; Craig Potter – keyboards, producer, mixer; Mark Potter – guitar; Pete Turner – bass; Richard Jupp – drums; Pete McPhail – baritone and sopranino saxophone, clarinet (track B1), alto and baritone saxophone (track B2); Tim Barber, Katherine Curlett – trumpet (tracks B2, C3); Jim Goodwin – additional vocals (track B2); Bob Marsh – trumpet (track C3); members of the Hallé Orchestra (tracks A2, C1, C2))
Seventeen years is a good run for any rock band, particularly if the group has had no personnel changes (a rarity in rock music circles) and continues to grow both critically and in popularity. The British five-piece, elbow (they don’t capitalize the name) are such a band. They formed in 1997, put out both a debut EP record and a full-length album in 2001. Since that time other releases have gone multi-platinum in England; elbow won a coveted Mercury Prize (akin to a Grammy Award); and performed at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. Despite acclaim, though, elbow remains a mid-tier entity in the US. When they tour America, they play venues which hold a few hundred to a few thousand (depending on which city they hit) and, by and large, they are not well known to the majority of general music fans. The group usually gets lumped into the alternative/indie rock, dream pop and Britpop genres, although they like to state that their ambitious sound is “prog without the solos.” Peter Gabriel’s post-‘80s aesthetic comes to mind when thinking of elbow’s music, so it is appropriate that elbow’s 2014 effort, The Take Off and Landing of Everything (elbow’s sixth release), was partially produced at Gabriel’s Real World Studios, and later finished in elbow’s Bluefield Studios. The Take Off and Landing of Everything, like other newer rock music projects, has been issued in various formats, comprising CD, digital download and vinyl. This review refers to the 45rpm, double-vinyl version on the Fiction label, a former independent imprint now owned by Polydor, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group.
Band members followed an altered path from previous outings. Vocalist Guy Garvey, keyboardist Craig Potter, guitarist Mark Potter, drummer Richard Jupp and bassist Pete Turner have concentrated on the vagaries of middle age: mortality, elation, regret, and acceptance flit through Garvey’s lyrics. Overt political declarations which peppered prior records are mainly absent or are hidden when broached. Mostly, Garvey focuses on the personal: the how and why of decision-making at a life stage which encompasses family responsibility, health issues and other concerns. The approachable art rock ambiance is felt on the opening number, “This Blue World,” where atmospheric guitars, keyboards and a percussive rhythm forge a quiet detachment behind Garvey’s subdued vocals, which are similar to Gabriel’s measured cadence. The music and lyrics, however, rise in meaningfulness on the long-form, Joe Henry-esque “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette,” which includes a list of prosaic moments which are far from youthful days of liveliness. During the tune, Garvey remarks that someone’s having a baby, someone else is viewing a televised dance program, and another is watching pundits yell at each other on a different TV broadcast. He laments that the days when a bottle of Irish whiskey and a pack of cigarettes weren’t a bother have disappeared, and the last puff and final gulp might lead to a hospital visit or the grave.
An additional theme is leaving and coming home, of discovering destinations and/or places where others treat you with a smile and a hug. That’s expressed best on initial single, the melancholy “New York Morning.” The track mentions longtime Big Apple denizen, Yoko Ono, by name, but the official video is a mini-documentary tribute to an aging couple, Dennis Anderson and Lois Kahlert, enthusiasts of the early NYC proto-punk and punk scenes, who continue to champion newer artists. As the narrative turns along like the wheels of an older car on cracked pavement, viewers and listeners are drawn into a world where things change whilst others stay the same, the hallmark of any adult relationship. On the opposite aspects of life, other compositions were penned during the aftermath of Garvey’s broken romantic connection, which provides “Real Life (Angel)” a sense of despondency but also hopefulness. This cut is the flipside of “New York Morning.” Throughout “Real Life (Angel)” affection has been excised, but there is an optimistic ache for another person’s arms. “Real Life (Angel)” is the most Gabriel-ish number. Garvey echoes Gabriel’s intonation, and the arrangement also evokes Gabriel’s meticulous soundscapes. The awareness of passion gone awry also permeates the whirled “Honey Sun,” where Garvey laces his tale of crashed desire with a nod to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, whose infatuation was famously troubled and calamitous. The LP closes with minimally-moving “The Blanket of Night,” which at first listen appears to be about lovers enjoying an ocean cruise. But the actual subject matter is two illegal immigrants endeavoring to get to a “better country” via a tiny boat buffeted by heaving waves. Garvey’s whispered voice is accentuated by modest keyboards, a poignant string section and strummed acoustic guitar.
The vinyl edition sounds great on an audiophile system. The two 180 gram records have a warm tone and the material seems to have been mastered especially for vinyl playback, which is not always the case with rock music issued on vinyl. Since the four sides spin at 45rpm, rather than the typical 33 1/3 RPM, there is higher fidelity than most other vinyl music releases. The inside gatefold cover includes all lyrics and credits. Vinyl purchasers will also find a digital download card for the entire album in one of the LP pockets. However, there is an intrusive amount of information required to use the card, so buyer beware. [The Amazon link is for the CD because they don’t carry the vinyl version…Ed.]
Side 1: This Blue World (A1); Charge (A2)
Side 2: Fly Boy Blue/Lunette (B1); New York Morning (B2)
Side 3: Real Life (Angel) (C1); Honey Sun (C2); My Sad Captains (C3)
Side 4: Colour Fields (D1); The Take Off and Landing of Everything (D2); The Blanket of Night (D3).