It’s a big year for Guy Garvey, who turns 40 just a few days before Elbow’s sixth album ‘The Take Off And Landing Of Everything’ is released on March 10. Garvey’s always been one for observing the passing of time, the friends we gain, the friends we lose, but the milestone adds a bit of bite to ‘The Take Off And Landing Of Everything’ as the frontman and his band – several of whom have worked up songs alone, departing from Elbow’s usual collective writing – focus on taking stock and gazing into an unknowable future. Unknowable to an extent anyway; ‘The Take Off And Landing Of Everything’ betrays no sign of waning mojos, finding the Bury boys as assured and rheumy-eyed as ever.
This Blue World
It’s the macro to the micro, as Garvey hymns the creation of all things, “this blue world and its countless sisters… all that came before that day” and asks, “Was the universe in rehearsal for us?” “If you plot your course on a windowpane,” he promises, “You’ll know to come to me”. Good to open with a bit of romance over thin, chugging beats and the – well – caress of an organ. It feels like a psalm before twanging Twin Peaks guitar and thickening organ chords sound as if we’re rising up, taking off.
There’s still an organ hanging around, but it’s clipped rather than fondled, muscling for space in this jerky, slow funk. It’s minor-key jazz rock and it’s oddly sexy. Garvey’s having fun with his words here – “Give us G&T and sympathy”, “I am a diehard with an empty dancecard/Propping up a young bar” – but in the end he’s “the boy who loved her so in every song”. At least I think that’s it. “I made your day so take a seat by me,” he orders as big strings boom in, dramatic and authoritative.
Fly Boy Blue + Lunette
This one’s the taster we’ve already had, a double-bassy stray cat strut with a wry state-of-the-nation rundown. “Someone’s dancing on the box/A former MP and no one’s watching… Someone’s shouting on the box/A chinless prefect gone Godzilla” – it’s funny but creepy too, delivered in a double-tracked emotionless voice. Halfway there’s a switch to a sway. It’s a bit Radiohead, ‘Reckoner’ meets ‘Faust Arp’. Still, Garvey’s a sweeter old cove than Thom Yorke and the song resolves to a lovely line: “Where are the words for the leap in my chest when mischief appears either side of your scar on your nose/Made by a rose thorn, so you claim/By a rose thorn…”
New York Morning
Essential to the modern-day Elbow experience is finding the new ‘One Day Like This’ or the swift replacement for ‘Open Arms’ – the song we’ll be singing along to in beery unison at this year’s festivals. Well, it’s probably here. ‘New York Morning’ starts shy, light electric piano floating a soft melody, but soon Garvey’s latching onto something: “Oh my God, New York can talk/So where in all that talk is all the answers?/Everybody owns a great idea/And it feels like there’s a big one around the corner,” over and over again. The killer image though is “a modern Rome where folk are nice to Yoko”.
Garvey’s the protector on ‘Real Life’ – “You never need fear a thing in this blue world”, looking back to the first track – over a bell-shaking rhythm strong enough to match his shoulders. He’s in great voice, dipping and soaring, celebrating the moment when “on that hallelujah morning/In the arms of new love/The peace that you feel’s real life”. It moves through epic phases, and it’s not alone there; the whole album keeps slipping into mantras, mesmeric, hypnotic.
A false start, keyboards tuning up, then a “Whoa!”, laughter, a “Jesus!” It’s strange then to hear a drum machine pattering in delicately with a hint of bitterness – “I know a place where angels lace the lemonade/And I cannot stay where all the broken plans remain”. The verses are sparse, punctuated by gospel hums, before rich harmonies lift the chorus, “Sing of my deeds while I’m gone/And I’ll spin some lies to tell you upon my return from the ends of the earth”. So much flavour and complexity in the arrangement, but this one’s catchy too.
My Sad Captains
Call this the centrepiece of the album, with a warm chorus – “Another sunrise with my sad captains/With who I choose to lose mind/And if it’s so we only pass this way but once/What a perfect waste of time” – and a shiver of a melody. Parps of organ, trumpet and handclaps build a rhythm that’s on the ‘Grounds For Divorce’ lines but prettier than that. It’s mesmerising again too, getting cosier with repetition.
Repetition (again) with “Bright girl/Dead town” over and over against an electric piano that plays like a bassline and another light drum machine pulse, as a tale’s spun of a girl who leaves “open mouths for miles around/I still see you keeping those dough boys guessing”. It’s a little like Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since U Been Gone’, but just the insistent verse not the sunburst chorus.
The Take Off And Landing Of Everything
The title track feels like ‘Colour Fields’ fleshed out, and there’s a sprinkle of Spiritualized to the tremolo sweeps and lush psychedelia of howling orchestral synths. It’s about sex, or flight, or – hey – this journey we’re on, and has an almost motorik drive as it settles into looped phrases, singing in the round of a “prayer to the take off and landing of everything/Leaving your lips as we take to the sky”. Garvey’s multi-tracked almost to incomprehensibility, but it becomes a kind of comfort blanket.
The Blanket Of Night
And so it ends with a ballad, an epilogue. There’s no breakneck pace to the rest of ‘ The Take Off And Landing Of Everything’ but it’s still a surprise to hear everything drop out. An orchestral intro gives way to electric piano, and bright guitar picking out a lullaby. “Paper cup of a boat/Heaving chest of the sea/Carry both of us/Carry her, carry me/From the place we were born to the land of the free,” coos Garvey, although there are choppy waters ahead. “The ocean that bears us from our home/Could save us or take us for its own,” he warns as all those unknowable things rear up. Whatever the dangers, they carry on plotting their own course.