Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Review: Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys - plus videos

So for the first time in Elbow's career, they were in the position of having to follow up a big success. 2008's 'the Seldom Seen Kid' was an accidental commercial success and scooped the Mercury Music Prize, and now 3 years on is it's follow up.

'Build A Rocket Boys' is an album about youth, friendship, old places, memories and the awareness of growing up. Rather than follow 'Seldom Seen Kid' with a more commercially accessible model of their sound, or follow it up with a similar record to its predecessor, they've honed the best aspects of their first four albums into a clever, subtle sound that with each listen reveal more and more about each song, and about the musical shape of this group over a decade since their debut.

'The Birds' opens the album with a hypnotic rhythm that gradually and calmly builds until a sky high chorus eventually breaks free and the track happily takes its time to end. 'Lippy Kids' is just beautiful, telling stories of youth and how the young often take it for granted. Twinkling guitar and soft, orderly piano along with deep choral backing vocals provide the perfect backdrop for Guy's soothing but increasingly sensational voice. the magic subtlety of this album is showcased nicely as the drums stay away, leaving the piano to flourish towards the end.

A sparse kick drum, handclaps, simple piano stylings and touches of gospel chorus light up the catchy 'with Love', which briefly recalls 2003's 'Cast Of Thousands' album. The single 'Neat Little Rows' is a classic, with its jarring and dangerous rhythm giving away to graceful flourishes of light bright melody that contrast with the lyrical call to "lay my bones in cobbled stones".'Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl' is a calming springtime treasure, with its pastoral acoustic guitar, and lovely touches of warm jazzy keyboard.

The fragile beauty of 'The Night Will Always Win' could be described as the album's centrepiece, demonstrating how the arrangements are never cluttered and complex, instead the instruments have plenty of space, and this allows each instrumental part to truly shine.

Light, precise percussion and insistent bass on 'high Ideals' briefly gives way for a warm, beautiful bed of synths to hum and buzz below Guy's vocal before the track grows into a graceful epic as the piano touches become more and more alluring and bright strings and brass bloom as it happily strides along. Another stunning and minimal piano arrangement provides a moving backdrop to the storytelling on 'The River', which is kept perfectly brief before 'Open Arms' delivers another gliding Elbow anthem, with its joyous chorus and uplifting atmosphere. The brief reprise of 'The Birds' is followed by the closer 'Dear Friends', a sad, glistening reflection on old friendships, its understated beauty bringing the record to a charming conclusion.

Consider this album as Elbow being comfortable with their music and not feeling the pressure of feeling the need to sell even more albums than last time.

Pure, natural genius.

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