Album: The Take Off And Landing Of Everything
Label: Fiction Records
It takes about a third of a second into “This Blue World”—the opener to Elbow’s sixth studio album, The Take Off And Landing Of Everything—for the feeling to sink in: this isn’t going to be a happy record. That initial feeling, of songwriter Guy Garvey’s remorse and hollowness opined over an almost Christmas-like instrumental arrangement, is only a little misleading as to the direction that The Take Off… embarks on. Much like those holiday-time jingles of olde, Elbow end up exploring not only past mistakes and hardships, but also the hallowed nature of overcoming that sense of loss.
That Elbow have been playing together since 1997 speaks volumes about the ten-song volume they’re now releasing. It’s a more mature offering from the British alt-rockers than we’ve seen before, combing themes less about growing old than about growing up. The authority with which Garvey rakes his bones for words can be genuinely heartbreaking. Still, the compositions on The Take Off… are just as stark and percussion-reliant as previous ventures, in that distinctly UK way that highlights a nice voice over interesting instrument choices. Not every English band has gone for the less-is-more approach since The xx tried it, and Elbow’s somber approach to crafting six-minute songs can be appealing, but at points—particularly on “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette”, which really is two songs fused into one—the band could have taken cues from their Canadian contemporaries and flourish their ballads a little more heavily.
The rest of the album dips and falters between the band’s obvious propensity for romanticism, and a voice that wants desperately to believe in that vision. In the context of Garvey’s life, The Take Off… makes perfect sense—it’s a break-up album framed in his fleeting travels between Manchester and New York, where he worked on the King Kong musical in 2012. Sometimes, that distance is expressed literally, like in “New York Morning”‘s giant, upbeat chorus and huge sun-rays of brass: it’s decidedly Brooklyn-esque, and even if you can’t feel the warmth of an east coast summer in the Lancashire native’s singing, you can certainly hear the optimism. The Take Off And Landing Of Everything is an album, at the end of the day, about hope: about having the experience to know things will get better, even when life is at its most bleak. It’s not hard to tell which way Garvey’s mind leans—even at the end of the nearly hour-long album, that same flake of positive thinking is ingrained in his charismatic warble.
That optimism comes to a head on the song for which the album gets its name—a long, upward climb of giant, steady drums and progressively more guitar and piano. As the standout song of the album, it also acts as a giant comforter, because despite everything Elbow have bemoaned over the course of The Take Off…, the titular track cements that, yes, we’re all growing older and there’s an awful lot to be sorry about, but there’s also a beautiful amount of empty space left with which to be excited for.