Elbow recently released their follow up to the Mercury Prize winning and highly successful The Seldom Seen Kid in 2008. Their latest effort, Build a Rocket Boys!, is a different take on their last, arena anthem record. Before the recording process, Guy Garvey, the lead singer and primary songwriter of the group, moved back to his hometown where he grew up, which is thought to have inspired Build a Rocket Boys! Many of the album’s themes reflect on the ideas of nostalgia, missing the warmth of family life and generally setting a more reflective and introspective mood. Though struggling to live up to their previous success, Guy along with band members Mark Potter who’s on guitars, Craig Potter on keyboards, Pete Turner on bass, and Richard Jupp on drums, embark on a creative journey that takes them to places they have not explored before. Guy writes about the realities of being middle aged, about childhood dreams, and how everyday people seek something much grander throughout life. This record is proof that Elbow still knows how to use textures to create a beautiful ambiance that is always different from what they have done before. What differentiates this group from many others is the propensity of the lyrics to being real and genuine with harmonies that can touch many people on several different levels. This is an imaginative, yet heartwarming record that echoes with textured guitars, organs, electronics, orchestral percussions, and of course the staple to most of Elbow’s music, the frequent use of the youth choir.
“The Birds” kicks of the album with an eight minute epic. This song seems to explore themes of old age. It’s mostly constant throughout, though its textures keep it interesting. The best feature of this track is towards the end, when Guy bursts into the chorus with pure emotion. “Lippy Kids”, which is one of the high points of the record, soothes all sounds with a mellow piano intro and distant whistling. The song stresses Guy’s frustration with how the media portrays teenagers who wear hoodies as criminals. The song elegantly breaks into the chorus; “Build a rocket boys!” backed by the majestic choir that wakes the sun before it touches the horizon. “With Love” is carried by a rhythmic bass and clapping where Guy sings of recalling memories of his mischievous years. “Neat Little Rows” is the only hard sounding track that also explores the playful years of childhood. “Jesus Is a Rochdale Girl” is a mellow and minimalistic tune where Guy sings about his first love. This is a lovely acoustic number with a heartfelt and enamoring melody. “The Night Will Always Win” is another soft track with a tranquil piano and keyboard sounds lighting the atmosphere. It’s a warm yet heartbreaking song. “High Ideals” breaks the mood with a trip hop like groove and textured horns. “The River” is a minimalistic track with a gospel tinged background. “Open Arms” is an enchanting, upbeat tune with climatic percussions. “The Birds (Reprise)” is a brief return to the first track of the album with John Moseley on lead vocals. Moseley is a piano tuner who was hired by the band to sing on the track as Guy was looking for a “sweet but frail voice”. “Dear Friends” beautifully closes off the album with Guy singing about the strong emotional connection of friends with belonging. The lyrics convey how however far you are from your friends and you home, they are never far from your thoughts. The song sweetly closes with fading horns.
Build a Rocket Boys! is a captivating record that gives a warmth that not many songwriters can create. Guy’s voice is so eloquent and moving as ever as he croons his heart about his upbringing and his fond memories with the people he loves. This is a collection of songs that cannot be categorized, yet can be taken into a calm setting of deep contemplation and magnificence. All listeners are welcome here as this highly innovative band has yet to reach the hearts of many. Those who enjoy Peter Gabriel’s Genesis, Radiohead and Talk Talk will find this album to be quite delightful. Build a Rocket Boys! serves as a perfect break from our fast paced lives to sit and simply be taken away to another world.