Elbow really amp up the romance on their new, self-produced album build a rocket boys! The romance of childhood that is. Guy Garvey has recently moved back to the neighbourhood where he grew up in Bury, Manchester and it’s given pop’s ultimate gentle giant pause for thought.
build a rocket boys! is another collection of wide-eyed, emotionally candid songs from Garvey. He describes the new album as "encouraging" and while it lacks the grit of their early work, this rocket continues to hit that rich vain of moist-eyed northern romance explored on The Seldom Seen Kid.
"It's the first time that our whole lives aren't hanging on the success of a record," Garvey said earlier this year. "And everyone has slightly better shoes. My dad rang me the other day and said there's a fridge magnet with one of my quotes on it being sold in the town hall gift shop. But it's a great feeling, really. It balances the paranoia about this album not being as successful. Because it's probably not going to be. But if it's well received, that'll do me."
It’s not out till March 4 but here Alan Corr presents a track-by-track preview of build a rocket boys!
The Birds (8:03)
The opener and rather epic The Birds has all the creepy, twitching paranoia of Hitchcock’s movie of the same name. A single guitar chord is repeatedly struck before a sinister segue into keyboards and violins. It recalls Elbow’s first (and best) album Asleep at The Back.
Lippy Kids (6:06)
Guy Garvey takes a trip down the backstreets of Bury in this wistful memoir of a boyhood spent, among other things, "stealing booze and hour-long hungry kisses." The song revolves around a ghostly piano chord and Garvey’s casual whistling. "I never perfected that simian stroll" he sings, which may very well be an affectionate dig at his Manchester contemporaries, Noel and Liam Gallagher.
With Love (4:12)
It starts like an Abba song (no kidding). It’s got hand claps, the massed voices of Elbow’s old friends The Halle Youth Choir, a balalaika and dulcimer set high up in the mix, racing piano chords, and it's all anchored by big, fat plucked bass. It’s pretty amazing.
Neat Little Rows (5:39)
The obvious single and the Grounds for Divorce of the new album. All heavy guitars (well heavy for Elbow) and Garvey’s most distorted vocal as he bangs on about "sages in the backroom" and "my high priest is folded neatly back into his box". There’s a vaguely psychedelic mid section before it bursts back into bold life again. The most intriguing song on the album.
Jesus is a Rochdale Girl (3:18)
A great title. Great song. Across a pastoral acoustic guitar Garvey stares out the drop leaf window of his new house and lists his worldly possessions ("45 CDs, a single yellow duvet, a single flick to switch"). It’s a song brimming with hope and the possibilities of the future. "I have a single heartbreak I celebrate and mourn, a single shining sister, and all the tricks of dawn." A real tear duct worrier in the best Elbow tradition.
The Night Will Always Win (4:24)
"I miss your face, I miss your bad advice." If you’re not teary-eyed at the end of this spectral beauty of a song you should go back to your Cheryl Cole collection.
High Ideals (5:39)
Mariachi horns introduce big clanging guitars and busy drums and a string section that melts away. And that's just the intro.
The River (2:51)
An elegiac mood piece in which Garvey considers the passage of time. And yes, he gets his feet very wet.
Open Arms (4:53)
Those big, massed voices are back on a rousing song that seems to be a meditation on imperishable friendship and the joys of coming home. "You’re not The Man Who Fell to Earth you’re The Man of La Mancha" sings Garvey showing off his knowledge of both Nic Roeg and Don Quixote and later in the song, perhaps even Charles Laughton. Ain’t half been some clever bas***** what?
The Birds (reprise) (1:31)
Elbow wanted an old man with "a sweet but frail" voice to sing the reprise to The Birds so they hired local piano tuner John Mosley for this gentle choral interlude. "Do they keep those final kisses in their tiny racing hearts?" Mr Mosley’s quaver recalls Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet by Gavin Bryars.
Dear Friends (5:01)
The twinkling, glad-eyed valedictory to build a rocket boys! finds our boy Garvey gathering his mates around (you can smoke in his house y’know?) for a cuddle of song complete with gorgeous harmonies and a lowing brass section that sounds like a foghorn on lost, dark nights. "Encouraging" indeed.