Music

Elbow: Build a Rocket Boys!

With their precise songs and patient delivery, Elbow continues to be worth close examination.


Elbow

Build a Rocket Boys!

US Release: 2011-04-12
UK Release: 2011-03-07
Label: Fiction/Polydor
Amazon
iTunes

It takes patience and memory to follow Elbow. The group first got together in 1990, but didn't realize an album until 2001's Asleep in the Back. The album received a Mercury Music Prize nomination, but the band would have to wait most of the decade before actually winning, for 2008's Seldom Seen Kid. It took three years for the follow-up album, Build a Rocket Boys!, to be released. The music itself is unhurried and reflective and looks back not to its award-winning double-platinum predecessor, but to those early years.

Opener “The Birds” encapsulates the Elbow story, which is less about the force of a rocket and more about the precision in their construction. The song begins with just a bit of drive, but mostly works to open up space (particularly in the sound of the drums). The multi-tracked vocals add an ethereal quality that doesn't let the guitar get traction. It's an enticing start, but the payoff doesn't come until four minutes in, after a number of pieces have been put in, taken out, and rearranged. The pinging synth line turns the energy just kinetic enough to make groove go from steady to insisting.

The song suggests that “looking back is for the birds”, but much of the rest of the album provides a more ambivalent take on nostalgia. In fact, the childhood reflections here don't quite turn nostalgic, yet there's not a resistant bitterness, either. “Jesus Is a Rochdale Girl” captures the attitude with a quick description: “nothing to be proud of and nothing to regret”.

“Lippy Kids”, which provides the line that became the album's title, does the looking back in a way that centers the album's thinking. Guy Garvey's vocal stays steady, and as he calls for the boys to build a rocket, he never voices the exclamation that's perpetually restrained. Adolescence is a mix of booze and stealing and kissing and while it amounts to something, 20 years of time shows both that much of it is affect and that maybe that affect is worth adopting, “simian stroll” or not. Garvey has a certain amount of ambivalence toward his adolescence, but wishes the best (and the best of self-awareness) for the gaggle of kids he sees navigating it now.

With lyrics carefully placed and considered, Elbow manages to approach the sentimental without going too far. The band knows it's better to have a quick nip and be on your way than it is to reside at the end of the bar, drinking your way into memory. That's not to say the band is filled with masters of cold precision. Instead, it means that when they reach for the anthemic (as in the oddly morbid but big-chorused “Neat Little Rows”), it works because it's born out of structure and understanding, but unafraid of its own release.

It also means that the fully exposed moments – reminiscent of the singalong from “Grace Under Pressure” on Cast of Thousands – are believable and effective. “Open Arms” could be a disaster. The chorus's build and melody are fit for big, lighter-waving crowds (lighters seem more fitting for Elbow than the more typical cell phones). The lyric “We got open arms for broken hearts” works because it grows out of the specificity of the rest of the song. The call “to come home again” responds to the album's earlier concern from “Lippy Kids” that “nobody knows me at home anymore”, simultaneously answering with hurt even while singing about responding to broken hearts.

Details make Build a Rocket Boys! warrant repeat listenings, requiring that you pay attention and remember what you experience. Elbow certainly doesn't call your attention to them, allowing you to slip between the minimal sounds and expansive production. You'll find them soon enough, though, as long as you let yourself be a little patient.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image