Album: Elbow, Build a Rocket Boys! (Fiction)
Friday 04 March 2011
In the three years since The Seldom Seen Kid hoisted the band into the first rank of arena-rock dependables, Elbow have had plenty of time to think. In singer Guy Garvey's case, a move back to the neighbourhood in which he spent his youth has prompted some fond musings over his own childhood and teenage years, the endless hours spent chipping away at creating his own character, the development of a personal cultural map, and the late nights plotting and planning to make the group's pipe dreams a reality.
The album title comes from a line in "Lippy Kids", where Garvey's glimpse of a younger generation of teenagers trying to perfect "the simian stroll" prompts recollection of his own attempts at "kerbstone cool", the memory set in humming choral aspic and methodical piano chords. "Do they know those days are golden?" he wonders. "Build a rocket, boys!" The air of exultant expectation recollected in tranquility pervades the entire album, with Garvey confiding memories and misgivings to the natural world in "The River" and "The Birds", the latter appointed "the keepers of our secrets", while the former ultimately washes them out to the west-facing sea.
In "The Birds", an old man looks back on the closing stages of a failed love affair from years before, with piano tuner John Mosley hired to provide the frail but moving vocal on the brief reprise later in the album. The song opens proceedings with the album's longest and most elaborate arrangement, its ticking slide-guitar riff suddenly replaced by a funky, staccato keyboard groove three minutes in. The rest of Build a Rocket Boys! seems to hover gently, as if suspended in the mist of memory, built around Craig Potter's static, almost minimalist keyboards, with repetitive monotone piano parts swathed in soothing organ ("The Night Will Always Win") or undulating harmonium ("Open Arms"), propelled forward by rolling tom-toms.
Strings and horns add sparing lustre to "High Ideals", and the Hallé Youth Choir lends humming reverie to several tracks, while at the other extreme, "Jesus Is a Rochdale Girl" is borne along by gentle acoustic guitar and furtive sprays of electric piano. The first song completed for the album, it finds Garvey gazing from a window at a familiar urban vista, recalling the youthful potential of his younger self at a time when he had "Nothing to be proud of, and nothing to regret, all of that to make as yet... a thousand boxes yet to tick". Elsewhere are mentions of "noble dreams and gentle expectations", while virtually every song seems haunted by the notion of fellowship and absent friends – not least the singer's childhood self, whose spiritual residue is addressed directly in "Open Arms", in lines which summarise the album as a whole: "The man you are will know the boy you were – and you're not The Man Who Fell to Earth, you're the Man of La Mancha."
DOWNLOAD THIS: The Birds; Lippy Kids; Open Arms; Jesus Is a Rochdale Girl
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