For every Coldplay or Snow Patrol that’s able to tug America’s heartstrings from across the Atlantic, there are a dozen British bands that do monster business at home, but can’t get arrested here. Sure, Keane or Doves or South play decent-sized American clubs, but—like Manchester band Elbow—they’ve known the glory of stadiums. For Elbow, that major success didn’t come until four albums in, and at exactly the point it was most deserved: 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid perfectly distilled its sad-sackiness into potent pop and a keenly current sense of grandiosity.
Build A Rocket Boys! takes most of the misery out of the Elbow equation, which singer Guy Garvey explained had something to do with the band’s success—a Mercury Prize, a platinum record, etc. It’s a strange admission to make, but a refreshing one: Life’s been good, so the songs have cheered up. Strangely, though, Rocket doesn’t embrace the band’s poppier side. Instead, it stretches out further into more spacious arrangements and experimentation, starting with the eight-minute “The Birds,” which somehow touches on both Brit-pop and prog. (Yes, that means it owes something to Radiohead.)
Garvey remains as clever as ever within this expansive new sonic palate, offering lyrics both witty (“You’re not the man who fell to earth / You’re the man of La Mancha”) and touching. (“Did you trust your noble dreams and gentle expectations to the mercy of the night? / The night will always win.”) There’s aren’t many huge hooks or clap-along BPMs—only “High Ideals” really bumps along—but Elbow more than compensates with ballads dense with sounds and inventive tinkerings. In other words, it isn’t the type of album that will easily find its way into the hearts of those in need of a quicker, simpler fix. But a bit of patience—especially from those with a propensity for grand Brits—will be handsomely rewarded.