Elbow: The Take Off and Landing of Everything

Music Reviews
Elbow: The Take Off and Landing of Everything

In writing up track-by-track liner notes for his band’s new album, Elbow frontman Guy Garvey has this to say about the title song:

“If love between two people has mutual respect and admiration at its foundations it will never be a regret however sad its end.”

That’s a poetically succinct summation of a lot of conflicting, messy feelings—ones that have undoubtedly been flickering through Garvey’s mind throughout the past two years. During the making of The Take Off and Landing of Everything, Garvey and his girlfriend Emma Unsworth ended their decade-long relationship.

Breakup songs and breakup albums are not exactly rare birds in rock ‘n’ roll—you’d almost think that being a touring musician could be strenuous on a relationship, or something. Or that great art and emotional turmoil have a deeply messed-up, codependent partnership.

Post-breakup music comes in a few distinct flavors: the scorched earth “fuck you,” the rose-colored nostalgia trip, the sad bastard’s lament. But rarer still is an album like the one that Garvey and his bandmates have crafted, a wide-angle experience that encompasses the sadness, the lingering fondness and even the acknowledgement of an expansive world humming beyond the author’s wounded heart.

On The Take Off…, Elbow gives the songs the room and space to breathe, to consider their contradictions and sometimes even mutate halfway through. “This Blue World” opens on a deeply elegiac note—this is the closest Elbow strays to sad bastard land. But with patient build, the song crescendos to a simple epitaph: “While three chambers of my heart beat true and strong with love for another / The fourth is yours forever.”

As earnest and warm as this opener sounds, a whole album of similar tracks would have been a devastating bummer. Thankfully, Elbow’s musicians are a versatile collection of veterans, and they bring out a variety of moods to explore—sometimes within the same song. “Fly Boy Blue / Lunette” starts off as a taut tale of airport claustrophobia, with ominous harmony vocals and stomping orchestral interludes ramping up the paranoia. But all the dissonance suddenly resolves into “Lunette,” a blissful ode to life’s little vices: all the cigarettes smoked, the whiskey and wine, and yes, the telling physical marks of the one you love.

“New York Morning,” written after Garvey hopped the Atlantic to escape the fumes of his breakup, takes outsized inspiration from “the modern Rome” in all its clatter and industry. It perfectly captures the unexpected high that often follows an emotional crater—when it feels like you’re finally opening your eyes again and recalibrating everything you once thought.

It’s that refusal to paint in a single shade that makes The Take Off… such a fully formed listen from front to back. Garvey and the other members of Elbow have always been craftsmen, focused more on finer details than immediate gratification. At times it’s led to releases that one might call “aural wallpaper,” and general accusations of being dull and beige. But with some of their catalog’s most emotionally rich material, The Take Off… is an album worth sitting with and revisiting.

Any tunesmith can throw together a bunch of songs about the end of a relationship. But to look beyond that initial hurt and mine new insights about what comes next takes a maturity that’s as hard-earned as it is vital.

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