Sunday, October 09, 2011

Music Album Review: Build a Rocket Boys! by Elbow

It may lack the backbone from their previous work, but "Build a Rocket Boys!" is one of the happiest albums that's ever graced my ears.
Elbow's fifth album, "Build a Rocket Boys!" was released back in March and is the follow up to the magnificent album, "The Seldom Seen Kid", which was released three years ago. Elbow have been making music for over twenty years although they didn't release their first album until 2001. They remained relatively low key throughout their career, until "One Day Like This" blew up and became one of the most played songs throughout 2008 and 2009. This is their first major album release since that track became a monster hit. "Build a Rocket Boys!, like its predecessor, was nominated for a Mercury Music Award, although unlike "The Seldom Seen Kid", it didn't win the actual award.

As I said earlier, Elbow finally got a lot of recognition with their earlier effort. "The Seldom Seen Kid" was definitely their breakthrough album, and "One Day Like This" was a very important moment for the band, as they finally conquered the UK. Elbow have always been perceived as a very talented band, that represent a combination of bumbling Britain. However there was no more bumbling for the band after the success of their fourth major effort. They found it difficult lyrically to write about the things they had been writing before, due to a lot of their material being about a lack of success emotionally and financially at times. But at this point, they were finally successful; they got the recognition they received. So the band decided to change their lyrical approach for this album by drawing inspiration from their past and reflecting about how far they have come.

The album starts of with "The Birds", an eight minute prelude, which sets the tone nicely for the rest of the album. "The Birds" is a gentle song, which gives you the feeling of being carried nicely on a little journey. The song does build up as it goes on, but it feels welcoming, and makes you feel very warm on the inside. The album continues down this very soft route with "Lippy Kids", a song about the horrible perception Britain has on our youth, and how we're paranoid over these kids being dangerous when they're possibly scared themselves. Some critics have highlighted this as a major track in the album, although personally I think there's better. This was the third single released off this album by the way.

One of those 'better' songs is the frustratingly catchy "With Love", which for me is a highlight of the album. Why frustratingly? Because this song is very reminiscent of church music; there's a full choir (the Halle Youth Choir) clapping and singing the chorus. I'm not anti-religion as such, but sometimes the idea of these beliefs frustrate me. But its a personal thing, and as I said, it's a very catch track, and the church inspirations aside, the song is great. It really stands out as a soft upbeat song that celebrates love in the finest way.

Next on the album is the highlight single of the album, "Neat Little Rows". Just to warn you, there is no "Grounds to Divorce"-esque track on this album, and this song continues on the soft gentle journey Elbow want to take us on. "Neat Little Rows" is definitely the most guitar driven track on the album, however it's not hard in any way, shape, or form. It has some edge to it in comparison to the other songs on the album, and is definitely the most approachable song for those who like indie and rock music.

One of my personal favourite tracks on this album is the great "The Night Will Always Win", which for the most part is a slow piano rhythm while lead singer Guy Garvey soothingly sings over it. It's a song that calls out to a missed but distant loved one, one that has long been attached to the past, never to be relevant to the future. It's quite harrowing but charming at the same time, with Garvey howling "I miss your stupid face" at two separate occasions in the track. I just really like this song and it's arguably the simplest in construction on the album. Not all songs have to be designed with complexity; a simple piano chord can do wonders at times. Another great track is the one that follows "The Night Will Always Win", a song called "High Ideals", which is another of the more upbeat tracks on the album.

"Open Arms" was the second single off the album and is a highlight in the latter stages of the album, with its football anthem-esque chorus, it definitely feels like a song to sing aloud, and is probably great to listen to live. The album's conclusion, "Dear Friends" defintiely feels like a goodbye song, in a way that makes you feel like you don't want to go, and you want the journey to continue. It wraps up the album nicely with an open letter of fondness.

It seems like it's just me when I say that I was disappointed overall with this album. Don't get me wrong it's good, but I just feel that it's lacking any strength in its sound. I mean I am a fan of Elbow and I know exactly what genre of music they are and what their fans expect from them, but personally, I just feel that such a mellow album needs a certain 'oomph' to it at times. "The Seldom Seen Kid" was a masterpiece, it was one of the best indie/alternative albums of the decade, if not the best. From start to finish it was brilliant, each song was easily detachable from eachother, yet glued together was one of the finest pieces of music the genre has seen. There was some great crackers on that album, my personal favourite being "The Fix"; and songs like that and "An Audience With the Pope" had a certain 'oomph' factor about them. This album for the most part lacks that; it lacks edge, it lacks a backbone. That backbone missing makes the album feel like a breeze pushing a leaf gently, rather than a sudden strong gush that is actually capable of taking the leaves off the tree. All softer indie/alternative bands have certain entries in their albums that show this edge; Radiohead do it, Coldplay do it, Arcade Fire do it. But in this album, Elbow barely show that side of themselves.

"Build a Rocket Boys!" is a good effort by Elbow, but in my eyes they haven't progressed much further than they did with "The Seldom Seen Kid". I don't know if they overexceeded themselves with that effort, or if it's just me being a little pedantic. It's probably the latter. But I think most Elbow fans can agree with me that this isn't their best work, but that it's still a solid effort. If you're new to Elbow my recommendation wouldn't be to start with this album, but an earlier release. There are two very good things I can say about this album; the first is that it's one of the happiest and most affectionate albums to grace my ears. Elbow seem to be in a great place in their career right now and you can feel their happiness and 'everything is rosy' thoughts in this album clearly. It makes a nice change to hearing all the negative lyrical work you hear more now than ever in music. To wrap up, the other good thing is that "Build a Rocket Boys!" is definitely an album to put on if you want to just sit back and relax to soothing alternative/piano rock. It's perfect for someone in that mindset, that's for sure.

Rating: ***3/4 stars
Stand out tracks: "The Night Will Always Win", "Neat Little Rows", "With Love"

Here's the video for the first single, "Neat Little Rows":

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