I was first introduced to Elbow a few years back by picking up the War Child: Heroes compilation with their cover of U2’s “Running To Stand Still”. I was fairly taken by Guy Garvey’s voice and its immediate similarity to Peter Gabriel, one of my favorite vocalists of all time. So I pursued a bit more, and picked up The Seldom Seen Kid. I loved what I heard. In fact, seeing a live video of the band performing “One Day Like This” is what led me back to songwriting. Yeah so those songs didn’t become much, but I realized the power and catharsis that can move people from one song. And this band has really versatile musicians that can branch their sound off in many directions while never losing sight of subtle details. The Take Off and Landing of Everything is no exception to this.
On first listen, I had forgotten that to experience something truly British and the textured and moody, I can’t just throw it on any old time. It took a few listens and especially a few rainy days to really absorb the beauty of this album. The opener “This Blue World” drifts in like a lullaby and conjures up some vivid pictures of a deep loving relationship in the dead of winter. “Charge” has some mellow organ with a heavier beat and lyrics like “I am electric with a bottle in me… and glory be, these fuckers are ignoring me”. Perhaps a song of the world passing one by. “Fly Boy Blue / Lunette” was the first song to get its hooks in me, with a melody that sounds a bit different from anything I’ve heard from them, a strummy guitar pushing it along and a searing electric guitar riff that is just the right touch. The first half seems to paint a stream of conscious picture of one’s surroundings and people. With “Lunette” this expands into a musing about vices of youth versus aging.
Next “New York Morning” streams in as though seeping through an open window. The music and the lyrics interplay perfectly. The songs grows and soars into a realization of the hope and love in the people we meet. And it all takes place in New York. I wasn’t as sure about this musically on first listen, but now it’s a song that has come back to me over and over throughout the year. I also urge you to check out the video to this song, as it was quite touching. Following this is “Real Life (Angel)”, a gentle song that seems to be about restoring one’s mental balance and peace after some sort of a fall. The song builds its layers in a subtle way and then midway strips away many layers to a simple guitar note, vocals and some very light keys and strings for atmosphere. Beautiful.
The second half starts off with some bits of rehearsal craziness, before starting with a heavily filtered drums and bass that sound.. yes like something Peter Gabriel would have done but hadn’t yet, in a song called “Honey Sun”. The lyrical imagery here sparkles. “I Know a place where angels lace the lemonade”. The song is one of falling in love and discovery. At least that’s what I make of it. The song almost whispers but it’s layers are so perfect. Next is probably my favorite here, “Sad Captains”. With a strum along and sparse beat that reminds me a bit of Blur’s “Tender”, and a melancholy trumpet in the distance. This one I remember reading was a tribute by Guy to the other members of Elbow, “with who I choose to lose my mind”. The earnestness of this one really grabs me.
“The Colour Fields” is a bit more upbeat, while still quiet and measured. I’m not quite sure what the story behind this song is, or who the “Bright girl” in the “dead town” is, but it seems to be repainting a memory or a daydream. The album’s title track follows, with a quiet noisy backdrop of reverbed sounds that reflect what seem to be the chaos of a relationship that is perhaps coming and going. Great lyrics here like “Patiently listen as dull reminisces fall from my jaws in a jumble again”. This is not one of the catchier songs here, instead relying more on emotional lift than singalong factor. And then closing out the album is “The Blanket of Night”, somewhat of a sailor’s prayer or lullaby. Musically there are some really different things going on with keyboards and electronic sounds not found elsewhere. These keyboards sound like spirits of the sea lingering above almost singing along. Creepy and perfect for the song. A great ending to a great album.
The Take Off and Landing Of Everything is the kind of album you have to let yourself go and relax to sink into. It is not designed as music to be listened to passively. Well, I guess you can once you know the songs, but it really demands your full attention to appreciate the space and the use of atmosphere in the songs. Guy Garvey is such a master wordsmith, and that is wasted if you are not paying attention beyond the sound of the songs. I’m glad I gave this one a few listens, as these songs are now embedded in my mental library of great songs. Elbow makes some real quality songs here and they are definitely worth the time spent. The album is quite an accomplishment for the band to be proud of.
Check out the videos from the album:
“Fly Boy Blue / Lunette”:
“New York Morning”:
“My Sad Captains”:
“Real Life (Angel)”:
“My Sad Captains” (Live BBC Radio 2 in Concert):
“Fly Boy Blue / Lunette” (Live at T in the Park):