Formed in 1990 in Manchester, England, Elbow is a successful British rock band. The band is comprised of Guy Garvey (lead vocals), Mark Potter (guitar), Craig Potter (keyboards), Peter Turner (bass), and Richard Jupp (drums). Although Elbow has released 5 albums in their career, The Seldom Seen Kid received the most notoriety after Elbow won the 2008 Mercury Music Prize. Build a Rocket Boys is Elbow’s latest release.
While I am still considered young, I've spent enough time on earth to have memories both of joy and regret. Looking back at the route my life encountered, my memories flicker like a vintage slideshow. No matter the circumstantial drama that inhibited my joy, the filters in my mind’s eye soften these images. In a way, some of my simplest memories slip into poetic imagery.
In a similar way, Elbow’s latest record, Build a Rocket Boys, finds lyricist Guy Garvey painting evocative pictures of his youth. The record centers on themes of childhood, looking back through the memory with rose-colored glasses, and remembering what it meant to be young.
To The Music
The album begins with “The Birds,” an infectious tune anchored by a unique chord progression on the piano.
“The birds / Are the keepers of our Secret / As they saw us where we lay / In the deepest grass of springtime / In a reckless guilty haze”
Citing this memory from “bird’s eye view”, the album begins by pointing the listener to an introspective position. Musically, as the tune builds, the band links multiple sections together into a final chorus of sound.
The record continues with “Lippy Kids.” As a delayed keyboard rhythmically echoes the piano melody, Garvey mimics the notes as he sings:
“Lippy kids on the corner again / Lippy kids on the corner begin settling like crows / Though I never perfected the simian stroll / The cigarette senate was everything then / Do they know those days are golden / Build a rocket boys”
As if in lamentation, Garvey urges these burnouts to make something of their life. These kids have unlimited potential and could do much more than “hanging out.”
Vocals Meet Piano
Additionally, this song exhibits Garvey’s trend throughout the album to follow the piano chords and melodies. It is pretty clear that Elbow’s creative process for vocal melodies begins with a piano. Considering that I begin in the same spot, I can’t fault the band for writing piano-based melodies. It is curious, however, that the band kept the piano melodies in the mix as if they exist as a crutch helping Garvey sing the proper notes.
On top of framing the songs through memories of youth, Garvey expresses a desire to go back to those simpler days. Almost as if his current life is a prodigal son compared to the way things were, he sings in “Open Arms,”
“Tables are for pounding here / And when we’ve got you surrounded / The man you are will know the man you were / And you’re not the man who fell to Earth / You’re the man of La Mancha / But we’ve love enough to light the street / Cause everybody’s here / We’ve got open arms for broken hearts / Like yours my boy / Come home again”
Ultimately, the plea to “come home again” thematically dominates this record.
Build a Rocket Boys presents some excellent songs. On top of the ones already mentioned, “Neat Little Rows,” “The Night Will Always Win,” and “The River” highlight the best of this record.
A Complicated Version of Coldplay
While the musicianship on the album is not highly technical, the composition and production of Build a Rocket Boys offers the listener countless intricacies as listens mount. With unique chord progressions and full-sounding instrumentation, Elbow’s sound resembles a more complicated version of Coldplay and supports the thematic elements of the record nicely.
Just as my memories flicker in positive-filtered hue, Build a Rocket Boys reminds me of the way things were, the way I wished things would be, and, ultimately, the way life was and is good. If you are a fan of “Brit-pop” or just like well-crafted tunes, I recommend this album.