Oh, that beginning. Oh, all the beginnings of Elbow-albums. It’s never the same but it always feels like home, like coming back after a long journey and seeing how things have changed but stayed the same because somehow home will always have this steady warm place to come back to.
“This Blue World” is a gentle opener and only hints at more epic instrumentals in faint uses of an Organ, a few percussion instruments at the end and this feeling like the camera is simply establishing the scene while slowly gliding over a coastline or through the skies to finally arrive at the first chapter, the first street sign, the first open door.
Oh, and it gets big because in contrast to the last album, the big bold orchestra is back, to give you a determination in your step, as “Charge” leads the way, a defiant little beast that boasts in lyrics and music and shows cracks in the nooks and crannies of this old town. “Fly Boy Blue/ Lunette”, reminding that the backroom-pub-jazz-elements are an integral part of this band, ventures further into this direction, painting a picture of a slightly askew image of everyday-life, everyday-impressions and then lifts off to the second part of the song, suddenly, the lyrics are clearer, the music less disruptive, the whole narrative softer and more caring, a vulnerable side to the brass voice of a few seconds ago.
The way how easily Elbow slip from one state to the other without interrupting the flow is one of their biggest secrets and reason why “The Seldom Seen Kid” still is one of the most perfect albums ever created. “The Take Off And Landing of Everything” is nothing like the fourth album but seems to have the focus of it, the soft rippling in the waves of the river it draws with bright strokes on the piano.
Remember U2’s “Where the Streets have no name”? This giant stadium song that hovered over the streets and people like a giant ray of sunshine? Elbow’s love letter to the Big Apple decides to touch the ground and march through the streets, with waving flags and a chorus to chime in. “Oh my God, New York can talk. Somewhere in that talk is all the answers”, Guy Garvey sings with a backing choir and darn it, if he doesn’t make us believe that maybe they really are there, hidden in a small damp apartment, a crammed elevator, a spacious office or a doorway next to a 24/7.
“Real Life (Angel)” then is a song I probably never would have expected from Elbow for its sound, especially its beat is nearly electronic, driving, restless, like something, modern Peter Gabriel would be (and probably is) very fond of.
The album is a lot of different things, influences, views on life mixed up, no, layered so softly that they feel mixed but still can be seen individually when the light is just right. Garvey broke up with his longtime girlfriend during the making of the album which is something that I usually wouldn’t mention but it changed some lyrics, song titles and maybe moods, as if the original was slightly tilted.
And the band worked independently on several songs, like little working groups creating pieces to mend together in the recording studio. Maybe that’s why “Honey Sun” has a certain Masters of Reality-vibe (circa “Welcome to the Western Lounge”). Written by Mark Potter who strings the guitar like he’s sitting at the docks and looking over the sea (not minding the twisted lyrics) until the Honey Sun breaks through the clouds.
And I guess, I am coming back to “The Seldom Seen Kid”, because “My Sad Captains” is a song for lost drinking buddies, which lyrically reminds of “Friend of Ours” (about musician and friend Bryan Glancy, who died in 2006) but musically has the echoing clapping of a church-song as the celebratory “One Day Like This” and offers a positive outlook to a scene that can also evoke sadness.
Another sunrise with my sad captains
With who I choose to lose my mind
And if it’s all we only pass this way but once
What a perfect waste of time
“Colour Fields” is a nice example how modern technology can still create earthy music. Apparently, Pete Turner (bass guitar) created most of the song on his iphone with several nifty apps and still managed to keep it uncluttered of too much diddlying. In fact, it’s one of the most open and clear songs on the album which fits the lyrics, a yearning to find a place for yourself where the pressure of the outer world don’t hole you in, to find some peace of mind amidst all the rumbling chaos.
The title song then is one of the songs we’ve come to know and love from this band and maybe – just maybe – one of the songs written after the love was lost between Garvey and his missus. But there is no bitterness nor anger, only deep affection and fond memories. For an album that offers many new glimpses into these artist’s minds, this song sits surprisingly far in the back, waiting patiently to make its mark, to spread out those layers, those lines “A prayer to the take off and landing of everything Leaving your lips as we took to the sky”, there’s hardly anyone else, who can write about love as effortlessly, grounded and delicate as Garvey.
The last, the lasting impression is another venture into slightly new territory and electronic playfulness with “The Blanket of Night” that offers the lines “Carry her, carry me” which were originally intended to be the album title. If “This Blue World” was the camera panning over a sleepy landscape, then “The Blanket of Night” is the otherworldly Greek boat-ride to the other side, some other sea, the night’s sky, the endless waves of stars and fading planets.
Oh, this ending.
Paper cup of the boat
Even chest of the sea
Carry both of us
Or, swallow her, swallow me