Elbow – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything (Album Review)

Elbow - The Take Off And Landing Of Everything album cover art

What with Spotify and Grooveshark and advance streaming and album playbacks and the rest, it’s never been easier to listen to album before you buy it. By the same token, it’s never been easier to make a snap judgement.

Luckily most Elbow fans will know that Guy Garvey and co’s work doesn’t yield up even half of its brilliance on a first listen through and, sure enough, ‘The Take Off And Landing Of Everything’ is the definition of an album that gradually grows on you.

Anyone expecting a rehash of 2011’s ‘Build A Rocket Boys’ or the 2008 Mercury Prize winning ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ will not find it here. Instead, you’ll get more joy comparing the new album to ‘Cast Of Thousands’ or even ‘Asleep In The Back’.

Opener ‘This Blue World’ is unashamedly slow-burning and hints at the mid-life crisis element that Garvey alluded to in promo interviews. However, the shoe-gazing doesn’t last too long and from here the pace gathers and the ideas swell.

‘Charge’ is a tempestuous yet understated track with bursts of orchestral brightness in the chorus, and then we come to ‘Fly Boy Blue / Lunette’. This six-minute marvel is right up there with the finest tracks Elbow have ever recorded.

An insistent bassline is punctuated by flourishes of tenor saxophone in the stomping, swaying chorus, before the bravado gives way to a sweeping outro that is humblingly beautiful. Garvey murmurs timelessly elegant lyrics that will serve as a fitting epitaph when the band decide to eventually go their own ways:

“I’m reaching the age when decisions are made / On life and liver and I’m sure last ditch / That’ll I’ll ask for more time / But mother forgive me / I still want a bottle of good Irish whiskey and a bundle of smokes in my grave”

Next up is the lead-off single ‘New York Morning’, which is the closest this album comes to radio bothering catchiness and true mainstream appeal with the first proper guitar lick on the album. The choruses get progressively grander and grander until it’s hard to resist singing along.

Then comes the Elbow nostalgia – ‘Real Life (Angel)’ has shades of ‘Grace Under Pressure’, while the studio outtakes and laughter at the start of ‘Honey Sun’ are strongly reminiscent of ‘Leaders Of The Free World’.

‘My Sad Captains’ is a touching tale of hungover camaraderie, but the true climax of the album comes on the title track, which swells and swells across seven orchestra-laden minutes to an anthemic climax. However, you won’t find yourself harking back to ‘Open Arms’ or even ‘One Day Like This’, more the carnivalesque joy of Doves’ ‘There Goes The Fear’.

It wouldn’t be a proper Elbow album without a quixotic closer (preferably a waltz) to leave you with something to think about, and ‘The Blanket Of Night’ fills that role nicely with militaristic overtones, lilting strings and eerie synth.

When I first heard this album, it was in a Canary Wharf pub as part of a poorly organised album playback, where the subtleties were lost amidst drunken business chatter and a lot of background noise. That is the worst way to listen to this album.

Instead, grab a decent pair of headphones and go for a nice long way through a busy city (preferably New York). Your ears will thank you afterwards.

The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made The Radio (album review)

The Beach Boys That's Why God Made The Radio New AlbumIt’s hard to resist the warm wave of nostalgia that crashes into your ears during the acapella opening of the new Beach Boys album.

Nearly 20 years on from their last album of all-new material, Brian Wilson and his surf-loving cohorts are back with ‘That’s Why God Made The Radio’. They may be pushing 70, but they are still smoothly crooning along like it’s 1962.

If nostalgia is what you’re after, then this record certainly won’t disappoint. But those expecting a reinvention will be left wanting. Essentially this is an album written to accompany a reunion tour, not to push back the boundaries, and it’s fair to say that Wilson deserves the luxury of writing an album or two well within in his comfort zone, particularly given his ill-fated experimentation with Country and Western music in the early 1990s.

There’s something inescapably retro about the jangly groove of ‘Spring Vacation’, to the extent that it could have been lifted from the soundtrack to ‘Grease’. Part of this is down to personnel, with backing vocalist David Marks returning to the fold for the first time in nearly 50 years, meaning that this record boasts all the surviving bands members who recorded ‘Surfin’ USA’ back in 1962.

With lyrics like ‘Isn’t it time we danced the night away?/How about doing it just like yesterday?’ it’s clear that the band aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel on this record.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Maps & Atlases – Beware & Be Grateful (album review)

Maps & Atlases
"Call that a beard? THIS is a beard!"

Chicago quartet Maps & Atlases have shaken off their math rock background, but not their evident love of ampersands and biblical beards (see right), for their sophomore record ‘Beware & Be Grateful’.

Released in the UK next week (April 16th) via One Little Indian, this album comprises ten tracks of delightfully creative indie pop, with echoes of Vampire Weekend and subtle nods towards 80s artists such as Peter Gabriel.

The extravagant flourishes and technical guitar-work in the vein of This Town Needs Guns are still very much in evidence, particularly with the two-minute guitar solo on the album’s slow-building centrepiece ‘Silver Self’. However these technical aspects are no longer the focus, allowing the melodies to come to the fore instead.

‘Important’ is a strange choice of opening track, but this slow-burner sets the tone for the more sombre and reflective moments that punctuate this record.

Next up, ‘Be Three Years Old’ picks up the pace with a vibrant plea for immaturity, and this track works as a strong blueprint for the more upbeat moments of the album. Playful samples and calypso vibes abound throughout, and it sounds like the band have even sampled the coin grabbing sound from Super Mario Land on ‘Bugs’.

The main thing that will divide opinion amongst new listeners is lead singer Dave Davison’s esoteric vocal style, which is flamboyant, affected and immediately recognisable – like a higher-pitched Morrissey with an American accent.

It all comes together quite nicely on the closing double header of ‘Fever’ and ‘Old & Gray’, where Davison really gets to show off his full range in an uplifting and optimistic crescendo.

Overall, ‘Beware & Be Grateful’ is a very catchy, upbeat record to get you in the mood for the summer and one that should play particularly well during the upcoming festival season.