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Review: Elbow - Flying Dream 1

The ninth studio album from Bury-based Elbow is finally here, not with a bang but with the finesse of an artist’s brush.

By Milan Perera, Second Year English and Community Engagement

The ninth studio album from Bury-based Elbow is finally here - not with a bang but with the finesse of an artist’s brush.

Conceived and recorded over lockdown, the Northern music giants bring their most reflective and nostalgic album to date with skilled songwriting and adept layering of sound. There are no sing-along arena anthems as in their previous albums, but soulful reflections on love, loss, family, friendships and the simple joys of being a parent.

With the onset of lockdown, once proud music venues across the country stood mute, much to the disappointment of music lovers. Brighton's Theatre Royal was no exception - but this was the venue where Elbow decided to record their latest album. Being no strangers to playing in front of packed arena audiences, this must have been a surreal experience to play in front of empty stands. But this was no mistake, as the band used the superb natural acoustics of the venue as opposed to recording in a featureless and clammy studio,bringing their latest project to a holistic completion

The regular quartet fronted by Guy Garvey joined forces with long-term collaborator Alex Reeves on drums and percussion, Sarah Field on saxophone and London Contemporary Voices on backing vocals for their latest effort.

The album kicks off with title track ‘Flying dream 1’, where Garvey reminisces about his childhood, surrounded by the warm embraces of his sisters and mother, while his father was across town. This nostalgic track is gracefully complimented with the soothing backing vocals and the gentle piano accompaniment.

The album’s third track, ‘Is it a bird?’, is a play on the famous words of popular superhero Superman. This is no ad-lib mumbling, but a melancholic musing penned two days after the passing of his mother-in-law (actress Diana Rigg) who starred in the iconic 60s sci-fi fantasy series, The Avengers. The mournful saxophone line brings an added warmth to this poignant track.

‘Six words’ is an ode to love, where the following six words are repeated throughout the song:‘I’m falling in love with you’. The syncopated drums, deft piano arpeggios, and the incomparable vocals of Guy Garvey arethe perfect mélange. ‘Come on, Blue' also features a catchy adage that runs through the track like a seamless thread, dedicated to Garvey’s son: ‘love transcends anything that ever ends’.

The showstopper of album is undoubtedly ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’. Curiously, this is the same title they chose for their fourth studio album which went on to win multiple awards. The song is a tribute to Garvey’s late friend, Brian Glancy, the Manchester based musician. The sustained notes on bass clarinet elegantly accompany the opening of the track, ‘The roses are heavy with rain and for ages/They'll have to veil’.

The album finishes with the upbeat track ‘What I am without you’ which was originally written for Garvey’s wife (actress Racheal Stirling), but the gentle inquiry “What am I on the earth for/If not to put you to bed? /If not to remind you to eat sometimes?” is relatable, and could ring true with anyone dear to you.

Flying Dream 1 is a definite winter warmer that grows on you with each new listen as it reveals its mystery in layers.

Featured image: Polydor

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