Review Summary: The sixth Elbow album delves deep into the human condition with songs that boast plenty of personality and substance.
Elbow have never been particularly interested in the idea of reinventing themselves with every new release. Instead, they've been slowly but surely tweaking their sound thriving on solid dependability in lieu of drastic stylistic shifts. On their sixth full-length The Take Off and Landing of Everything
the outfit turn full circle as they continue to rekindle the art rock spirit of their excellent debut, Asleep In The Back
. Almost completely bereft of stadium-sized anthems many of their previous records have so readily embraced, the new album settles in the confines of ambitious mellow rock where the textures are luminous while the songs are brisk and highly melodic. Such is the strength of this Mancunian quintet: they don't beat the listeners into submission, but rather enchant them with nuanced songcraft that never rushes to labour a point. The songs gracefully unfurl from quiet beginnings to elaborate waves of blissful noise.
The triumph of The Take Off and Landing of Everything
largely lies in the group's decision to alter the process by which they compose their material. Relegating the songwriting to individuals, rather than writing as a collective, has done wonders as the album shows remarkable consistency when likened to the act's previous offerings. The experimentation hardly ever ceases to be subtle, yet it results in some of the band's most enthralling tracks to date. 'Fly Boy Blue/Lunette' sports discordant guitar riffs and King Crimson-echoing cacophonous brass section until it unexpectedly settles on a contemplative final act. The title track is wondrously built around grandiose oriental backing, while synth-laden closer 'The Blanket of Night' conjures up an unsettling, otherworldly atmosphere. The quintet should come up with more songs as adventurous as those given that some of their most traditional cuts just pale in comparison. Particularly, the dreary 'Real Life (Angel)' fails to engage, disrupting the flow of the otherwise stellar presentation.
Elbow partially recorded the new album in Real World Studios, which makes their kinship with Peter Gabriel's output unquestionable at this point. Not only does the music have the same elegant, gentlemanly flair to it, but also frontman Guy Garvey's resonant baritone bears a striking resemblance to the evocative rasp of Gabriel. Garvey is more than a competent singer, delivering the performance that's at once assured and vulnerable. Elbow also would be a completely different band without his poetic musings that deal in loss, friendship and midlife crisis. He's in scintillating form here, delving deep into the human condition with songs that boast plenty of personality and substance. The brilliantly orchestrated 'Charge' sees him impersonating an elderly guy who rages against the youth in a pub. “Glory be, these fuckers are ignoring me / I'm from another century,” Garvey snarls in this scorching analysis of advancing age. For every sarcastically biting number, there’s always one simmering with unbridled romanticism. 'New York Morning' is a life-affirming ode to New York and its many inhabitants, and 'Sad Captains' is a hugely relatable account of losing one's drinking buddies: “Another sunrise with my sad captains / with who I choose to lose my mind, and if it’s so we only pass this way just once, what a perfect waste of time.”
The Take Off and Landing of Everything
may not be one of the most immediate or diverse albums in the quintet's discography, but its tremendous appeal shouldn't be deflated. It takes several spins to fully comprehend the ambitious scope on display here as this is the kind of record that unravels the longer one ventures into its gorgeous textures, subtle progressive leanings and consistently clever lyricism. The end result is an unpretentious collection of art rock songs that oftentimes deeply resonate.