March 25, 2014 / 12:23 am

Elbow – The Take Off & Landing of Everything

Released 3/11/2014

5/7 stars

Elbow has always occupied a sort of musicians’ no-man’s land. They’re the kind of band who’s commercial performance does not necessarily align with the high critical praise that is heaped upon them. They’re the kind of band who is perhaps a tad overqualified for the late-afternoon/early-evening slot at Glastonbury yet still isn’t fit to headline. They’re an album band, a group whose best music has never been presented in the form of radio-ready singles. Elbow’s sixth studio album, The Taking Off & Landing of Everything, won’t, for better or worse, do anything to change that dichotomy.

Elbow’s prior work has always focused on sweeping, symphonic pieces of music punctuated by the vocals of singer and lyricist Guy Garvey, a style that is happily retained on Taking Off. Album opener “This Blue World” and the late-album title track exemplify this perfectly, as dynamics shift and rhythms push and pull and Garvey’s voice runs the gamut from warm and inviting to gruff and soaring. “This Blue World,” in particular, is a beautiful piece of music, its chiming guitars and organ flourishes perfectly, framing Garvey’s lovely voice as he takes us through the course of a relationship.

Elsewhere on the album, songs like “Honey Sun” and “Colour Fields” both provide a welcome change of pace from the grandeur of the majority of the album. On these songs, the band employs a subtler touch to the rhythm section, even including something akin to a drum machine in places. “Colour Fields,” in particular, is a tremendous song, its slightly off-kilter organ and bass line blending with the light, propulsive beat of the drums to craft a surprisingly catchy tune.

It’s no secret that Elbow’s most identifying feature is Garvey’s voice and lyrics. His gruff, everyman drawl soars in much the same way as Coldplay’s Chris Martin, albeit with a more workmanlike spirit. Look no further than the flowing double-tracked harmonies on “Real Life (Angel),” which ebb and flow in step with the music. Lyrically, Garvey has always been one for a good story, and on Taking Off he’s decided to look to his recent breakup with his longtime girlfriend to gain inspiration. When given this context, the lyrics begin to reflect the sort of swooning, melancholic music featured on the album. “This Blue World” doesn’t just chronicle a relationship, it chronicles his relationship. The breathtaking “New York Morning” is a near-verbatim adaptation of a diary entry he made while visiting New York City with his girlfriend. The epic title track features lyrics like “Every living thing needs watering/ I miss loving you/ Actually loving you.” There’s real pain here, and it’s that melancholy that reveals the album’s true beauty.

The Taking Off & Landing of Everything won’t break the band into the mainstream. It won’t spawn any hit singles. It might not even convert any new fans. What it will do is exactly what Elbow albums have always done: Envelop you in a warm, shimmering hug of sweeping melancholy and comfort. And six albums in, maybe that’s enough for Elbow.