Album: Elbow, Build a Rocket Boys! (Fiction)

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The Independent Culture

Build A Rocket Boys! – an expression of optimism and rising to challenges – is well named in a second sense too: the band who recorded it are voyaging to new frontiers.

For the first time in their long career, Elbow are following up a success. With its double-platinum sales figures, Mercury and Brit awards (along with countless lesser NMEs, Mojos, South Banks, Ivor Novellos and the like), 2008'sThe Seldom Seen Kid was the biggest Elbow smash this side of Wayne Rooney's assault on James McCarthy's cheekbone.

Commendably, the Bury band's fifth album doesn't see them chasing the mainstream or pandering to the ear of the daytime radio dilettante. Not that it's a harsh or "difficult" listen by any stretch. But the pressure that Guy Garvey and co will inevitably have encountered – from the industry if not from a little voice inside their own heads, to come up with more lighter-waving anthems in the vein of "One Day Like This" – particularly given that their current tour includes a date at the soberingly cavernous O2 – is one which they have resisted.

Too solid and mature to have their heads turned by fame or to suffer stage fright, Elbow have instead made the album they wanted to make. And it's an album about youth, its central conceit being Garvey attempting to revisit his state of mind circa the age of 22 and his life-memories up to that point.

There are a couple of worrying tastes of bucolic prog in "The Birds" and "The River" (which mentions "the clamour of rushes and deeply barren trees"), reminiscent of the era when Pulp lost the plot and started singing about trees and sunrises. In the main, however, Garvey is on superb lyrical form: "I never affected that simian stroll," he sings of the street-corner youths depicted on "Lippy Kids".

On "With Love", he describes moments "when your dentures prevent your smile". And "The Night Will Always Win", a song about fading memories of the dead, has the exquisite lines "I miss your stupid face and your bad advice... I try to clothe your bones in scratchy Super 8s, exaggerated stories and old tunes..." Craig Potter's production is almost Trevor Horn-like in places ("Neat Little Rows" and "High Ideals" both have a touch of Lexicon Of Love about them), whereas the stripped-back, sketch-like "Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl" shares more of the DNA of Simon & Garfunkel.

In either mode, however, Elbow have proved they're better off leaving the anthems to the royalists and rugger lads. Build A Rocket Boys! is a higher pleasure altogether.