Over the course of their impressive twenty-two years together, Elbow have progressed from rather humble beginnings, playing their first gigs in pubs in a small northern town just outside of Manchester, to the seasoned stadium-shows and festival veterans they are today . They even have an Olympic closing ceremony under their belt. Elbow have carved out a solid niche in the post-rock genre and arguably established themselves as one of the more notable British bands of the past couple of decades. If you had hoped however, as I had, that Elbow’s sixth studio album The Take Off and Landing of Everything would offer up something new, surprising and contrastive to the band’s previous work, then I am afraid you will be disappointed. Surely, their sixth album would be an ideal platform for Elbow to break free of their traditional conventions and deliver something a little more risqué. Yet they seemed reluctant to take such an opportunity. It’s been suggested that Elbow are of late, stuck in a rut, and The Take Off… does little to prove otherwise.
This is not to say however that the latest offering from the Mancunian quintet does not feature some fine musical moments. My personal highlights are ‘Fly Boy Blue/Lunette’, ‘Charge’ and ‘New York Morning’. ‘Fly Boy Blue/Lunette’ sees lead singer Guy Garvey describe in detail his love for smoking and alcohol, and ponders of the question of whether or not to give up such pleasures in order to preserve one’s life for a few more years. The track features one of the more memorable guitar riffs on the album, which serves nicely as an interlude between verses of Garvey’s melancholic vocals. ‘My Sad Captains’ is another stand out, a tribute to long standing friends and clearly draws on gospel influences in the chorus, which can be imagined echoing round an arena in a mass-sing along. Despite such moments of tangible excellence, listening to the album as a whole I get the sense that that Elbow have played it too safe, only occasionally exploring their darker, moodier heavier side and all too often slipping back into their default, auto-pilot setting with tracks like ‘Honey Sun’, that simply amble along without real direction or impact.
It’s hard to believe that six years have passed since the release of the massive ‘One Day Like This’, and I get the impression that Elbow are a band who have realised that they don’t need to write big hit singles to be successful. Instead their fans listen to the intricacies of their albums and appreciate the music for what it is. None of the tracks on The Take Off… stands out as a potential massive hit single, rather the music moves gently and seamlessly from one tune to another as the album unfolds. Guy Garvey describes The Take Off… as their “proggiest record yet”. This is hardly surprising given Garvey admitting how much of an influence Peter Gabriel is on him. Indeed there are moments in The Take Off… that are reminiscent of the likes of Genesis and bands of a similar vein, but it is difficult to pin down exactly what exactly gives the album a progressive feel.
Despite my disappointment at Elbow’s reluctance to explore different stylistic territory, it would be unfair to say that The Take Off… is a complacent effort on the band’s part. The record does need to be listened to several times over to really appreciate the themes and emotion being conveyed in the music. This album isn’t quite as immediate as Elbow’s earlier material and the themes covered do differ from previous the band’s work; there is more pondering of what it is to be middle aged and face life changing decisions. The Take Off and Landing of Everything is certainly not a classic album, and I get the feeling that Elbow are in a transition phase between youth and middle age, as the band members cease to be a group of thirty-something’s and enter their forties. Perhaps then this album truly does mark a turning point for the band, and they will find future success exploring a markedly different style. Maybe I’m being optimistic again, but I can’t help myself from feeling that Elbow’s greatest work is yet to come.By Chris Roberts