Since 2001, English band Elbow have evolved into purveyors of novel and well-crafted art-rock. Each of their four previous records has shown growth and expansion as they have garnered awards, and a reputation, for creating astoundingly engaging and powerful, yet superbly sublime and atmospheric rock.
On first listen, though, Build A Rocket Boys! may seem an exception rather than the rule. Subtlety and nuance have replaced the flash and brawn of past efforts. Poignancy and mood are favored over stylistic hooks. Sublime melodies and ambient textures persist, but are delivered in a more subdued manner and in the context of artful musical ideas rather than unforgettable songs.
But as frontman Guy Garvey says, “We are still an album band before anything else”. And as albums go, Build A Rocket Boys! is a beauty. What it lacks in grandiloquence it makes up for in richness and elegance. Whereas previous Elbow records set a mood, Build A Rocket Boys! may require a certain mood, and a few spins, before the lofty expectations are shed and you’re left delighting in its radiance.
The exception, and standout, being the brilliant opening track “The Birds”. Seemingly an extension of their innovative style, the catchy melody and ambient textures are wrapped in stylistic prog-like arrangements forming a majestic rock tune that enchants immediately. The following track, “Lippy Kids”, sets the tone for the rest of the album. A dulcet and reflective song that resonates with a warm glow and relies heavily on the intimately reflective and passionately smooth vocals of Garvey. Thankfully he has both the voice and the eloquence to not only carry a song, but afford the listener an emotional connectivity with the music. The inclusion of the Halle Youth Choir on several tracks adds a powerful touch.
Elbow continue to impress with their knack for extracting various pop and rock elements from the last 3 decades to create tunes that push and cross many boundaries yet somehow remain fresh. The distinctive and dynamic vocals of Garvey coupled with the band’s explorations of tone and texture is a winning combination that plays out like something resembling a cross between Coldplay’s cooler cousin and Peter Gabriel’s progeny and makes for an album that entertains while it satisfies and soothes.