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Elbow Build a Rocket Boys! Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

They continue to make music that sounds like it cares how you are.

Fraser McAlpine 2011

Everyone relax; this is not the album where sudden acclaim goes to Guy Garvey’s head. There are no songs about touring, pressure, intrusive journalists or settling old scores. The band have not taken the long-deserved, but still surprising success of The Seldom Seen Kid as a mandate for startling sonic reinvention, nor have they crafted 12 identikit stadium anthems in the vein of One Day Like This, so that TV editors will have fresh stock from which to make programme trails.

There isn’t even a palpable air of triumph to proceedings; no more so than usual, anyway. Elbow are a classier act that that. They do what they’ve always done: construct billowing repetitive structures out of tightly-controlled ideas – twisty guitars, razor-bass, clockwork piano, shakes and rattles and finger-clicks – and then invite a bearlike man with a helium roar to fill them with his scuffed and maudlin love letters.

In Dear Friends he sings, to the people who know him best, "You are angels and drunks, you are magi." In The Night Will Always Win, he howls "I miss your stupid face, I miss your bad advice," like a bad husband locked out of his own home. With Love is blessed with the drunkard’s lament, "I’d give my liver to see you."

It’s a strong cocktail, one part roguish charm and three disarmingly honest love: love of chaotic nature (The Birds), love of chaotic teenagers (Lippy Kids), love of chaotic love. The correct response, after even one sip, is to swoon.

They do get away with murder, mind. Who else could sell a bombastic chorus like "We’ve got open arms for broken hearts" – delivered with the show-stopping support of the Hallé Youth Choir, no less – without causing an immediate call for a polygraph and a sick bag? Bono? Nope. Chris Martin? Maybe a year or two ago. Richard Ashcroft? Not in those shades.

The fact is, the reason that people love Elbow so much – beyond their astonishing musical abilities – is they make music that sounds like it cares how you are. No amount of media hoo-hah is going to change that.

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