As they release their sixth studio album, The Take Off and Landing of Everything, it is fair to say that elbow are in a rare position within the music world. Few bands can lay claim to a career that encompasses over twenty years. Even fewer can make that claim without changes to personnel, and, yet, elbow in 2014 are the same as elbow in 1992: Guy Garvey on vocals, Mark Potter on guitar, Pete Turner on bass, Craig Potter on keyboards, and Richard Jupp on drums.
That isn't to suggest elbow are rigid in their musical approach. For The Take Off and Landing of Everything, the band subtly changed their previous working practices to great effect. Where previously the vast majority of elbow songs had been the creation of the band in total—a sketch from one member being developed by the band in rehearsal—this time around, a conscious decision was made to try a new approach. So, "Honey Sun" is the musical creation of Mark Potter, "Colour Fields" was mostly written by Pete Turner using iPad apps, and "Fly Boy Blue / Lunette," the track that unveiled the new album with its accompanying film in January, was initially created by a core group of Pete Turner, Mark Potter, and Richard Jupp.
Some things remain the same though. As with previous albums, the UK million-seller The Seldom Seen Kid (2008) and its platinum follow-up build a rocket boys! (2011), the band began the writing process on tour and then on to Peter Gabriel's Real World in Wiltshire for recording before returning to their studio base at Blueprint Studios for further recording and mixing. Production duties are once again with keyboardist Craig Potter, and Blueprint continues to serve as the elbow artistic hub. Creative associates The Soup Collective filmed the process and the wider elbow family, including their tour manager and live sound engineer Danny Evans, whose involvement Guy describes as the "one other factor that makes this record different" in place around the recording process. The wider cast includes the Hallé Orchestra ("Manchester's oldest band" as Guy affectionately calls them) with Pete McPhail, Tim Barber, Bob Marsh, and Kat Curlett adding brass to selected tracks and long term friend Jimi Goodwin of Doves adding backing vocals on the single "New York Morning," a signifier of another major influence on the album.
Throughout the recording of The Take Off and Landing of Everything, Guy was "hopping between New York and Manchester, essentially making Green Point, Brooklyn my second home," an influence most obviously evident in the title and subject matter of that lead single but also reflected throughout the album via the experience of "coming home." As Guy notes, "There is plenty to be proud of in the UK, but there is also plenty to be ashamed and fearful of, and coming home has at times been a bitter sweet experience." Distance amplified those feelings. Album closer "The Blanket of Night" appears to be a straightforward love song only to reveal its subjects as illegal immigrants, afloat at sea attempting to enter a "better country." Lennon's quote that NYC was welcoming to Yoko in a way that the UK was not is rephrased in the single, and the "former MP" and "teenage prefect gone Godzilla" (a sideways, surreal take on our ruling class) of "Fly Boy Blue / Lunette" all echo a strand of political statement that has been a part of the band since their debut album.
As with all previous albums, the political is balanced by the personal. For a band all approaching their fortieth birthdays, who have been together since their late teens, changes in personal circumstances and outlook are channelled by Guy's lyricism throughout. Lost friends are remembered on "My Sad Captains," lost loves on the album title track, whilst "Fly Boy Blue / Lunette" sees Guy demonstrate self-awareness of his situation by noting "I'm reaching the age where decisions are made on the life and the liver," a stand-out couplet that resonates with anyone contemplating "middle age" in the modern world of eternal youthful behaviour.
So the elbow of 2014 are both the same and markedly different to those five teenagers of 1992. Always critically respected from their debut EP Noisebox, a self-release that landed in John Peel's Festive 50 of 1998, through the Mercury-nominated debut of Asleep in the Back (2001) to the current day—and still the only band to score four consecutive 9/10 album reviews in NME. The band may now have Mercury, BRIT, and Ivor Novello awards to their name, after graduating from halls to arenas, inside pages to front covers, best kept secrets to globally-recognised names, festival second stages to main stage headlines, but their core motivation remains that stated by Guy on the release of debut single proper "Newborn" in 1999:
"It's not very fashionable to give a shit about anything but, for us, both lyrically and musically it has to be sincere."
Once again, elbow have done what they always endeavour to do; make another great elbow record.