After the relentless adulation piled onto their previous record, you'd forgive Elbow for using the next release to sit back, to churn out the same twelve/thirteen tracks (depending on what version you picked up) but just in a different order. But Elbow are far too savvy, far too classy and have been working far too hard since their formation in the early 90s to try to pull that particular musical trick. So no, Build A Rocket Boys! is not the same as The Seldom Seen Kid, nor is it a jarring swerve out into the unknown, and in there lies its strength.
Unlike many bands who hit the big time, Elbow don't revert to regaling us with well worn tales of hacks, fans, and the difficulties of the fame and recognition. There's no Mr Writer, no Journalists Who Lie, no grandiose grandstanding of how hard it is when you have a few hundred thousand in your back pocket. Guy Garvey instead, sticks, rightly so, to the relatable. The stories of love, loss, friendship and society that shape our lives and build emotion. You will find no bitches and bling, no groupies or tour bus stories, here. And it all makes for an enthralling collection of songs.
Stand out track 'Lippy Kids' is a classic Elbow composition. Gentle synths give way to stirring strings as Garvey laments the demonization of today's youth, hanging on street corners, smoking cigarettes, with their 'simian stroll and hour long hungry kisses.' It's not an 'in your face', hook-ridden track but it's catchy in it's simplicity and beauty, and the rest of the album proceeds in similar vein.
In any other hands, the concepts and the ideas would seem mawkish and sentimental, see 'With Love' 'when your dentures prevent your smile/these adventures will/fill your eyes with love', but Elbow provide such honesty and reality to the proceedings that it's hard to not be dragged into it. And Garvey's voice, a physical manifestation of a melancholy bear howling at the moon, adds true depth and heart to each and every word that falls gracefully from his mouth.
If there was any track that could be classed as 'radio friendly' it would 'Neat Little Rows', and even then the lyrics, abstract and metaphorical 'Oh lord/landed gentry line up behind me', make this a not-so-straight forward slice of rock to chew on.
We travel through stories of lost dreams and a lost relationship on the delightfully low key 'The Night Will Always Win', 'well did you trust your noble dreams/and gentle expectations/to the mercy of the night/the night will always win.', to drunken ramblings to a stranger on the touching 'The River' 'I told him my sorrows/and broken down dreams.' and finish with a shimmering ode to friends in the aptly named 'Dear Friends', 'dear friends/you are angels and drunks/you are maji/old friends.' It's a tender, touching finish showing that Elbow don't need bombast and gimmicks to get into your heart.
No, there is no rabble rousing stadium anthem like 'Grace Under Pressure' or 'One Day Like This', though 'Open Arms' comes close,nor is there any foot stamping blues like 'Grounds For Divorce'. They haven't made a record to please their record label, nor to please the critics. This is a band record, a fans record.
It's the music Elbow would have made regardless of the fame, fortune and exposure. And that in itself makes this a damn fine record
Must Listen: Lippy Kids, High Ideals, The Night Will Always Win
Can Skip: The Birds (Reprise)