Midway during Elbow’s recent blinding Coachella set, my buddy turned to me and said, “I didn’t know Ricky Gervais could sing, too bad he gained the weight back.” I laughed both appropriately and inappropriately.
For any lesser band and front man, this moment would have been the critical kiss of death. While I can no longer look at the cherubic and bearded Guy Garvey the same way, Elbow’s impressive catalog overshadows potential mocking and the improbability of its ascent into stardom.
Build a Rocket Boys! perpetuates the Elbow sound: plodding sequences and cinematic flourishes, with the added paradoxical and understated strength and softness of Garvey’s croon. And why not? This is a sound uniquely theirs and increasingly successful, gathering a growing fan base of critics and punters on both sides of the ocean.
More subtly than its predecessor, Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid, this album, the band’s fifth, sneaks into the psyche and rewards those who engage with it as opposed to those who treat it as aural wallpaper; Kid verges on being outrightly bombastic compared to Rocket.
Like Kid, however, the deliciousness here still lies in the details. Cursory listens yield little joy, because one must intently interact with this collection of hooks, pieces and moods to appreciate how big these little ditties about little things truly are.
Garvey’s sharp eye captures the seemingly mundane and transforms it into aching magnificence. “Lippy Kids” has the older Guy looking at youth with envy and fear—you know, the way old people do. In the awkwardly titled “Jesus Is Rochdale Girl,” he takes an insignificant period of time spent in an inconsequential house (“Nothing to be proud of/And nothing to regret”) and inevitably celebrates its profound impact. The results are stunning.
The one song that sonically steps out of the banal thematic bask of the other tracks is the pseudo arena rocker “Open Arms.” It too celebrates a time and place, along with the backdrop of home, belonging and community, but in a fashion more anthemic, with its sing-a-long chorus and choir.
Implicit within this grandiose interlude, there is a fundamental genuine concern for the listener, an understanding that other emotion mongers like Coldplay, Snow Patrol, and even Bono merely ape and brush against versus legitimately comprehending.
It is for these reasons and more that I can laud the poet laureate that resembles Ricky Gervais, and join the swelling fan base gathered at his Rocket's launch pad.
--Chris "Gutter" Rose