There’s a beautiful purity to Elbow’s ninth studio album, Flying Dream 1. Following their somewhat dark release of 2019 effort Giants Of All Sizes, the Bury band have taken a moment to reflect and flown in the other direction with their calming, orchestral new release.
Initially, Elbow worked individually on ideas for what would become Flying Dream 1, and they exchanged thoughts remotely. The group, who are now into their third decade together, then united in Brighton but decided against a traditional studio setting for the record. Instead, they took advantage of closed venues and the acoustics on offer at the Theatre Royal in the seaside haven.
Commenting on the process of making Flying Dream 1, Guy Garvey stated: “We don’t phone each other for a chat. We don’t talk about life outside the music until we’re together. These hushed night-time missives told us how each other were doing. When we finally got together, all that was to do was record the songs, honour them with amazing additional singers and players in a gorgeous space and catch up. It was beautiful.”
Elbow lean into their mellower side on the record, hinting that their arena-filling rock band days are over. This refreshing change of direction is a welcome one, allowing Guy Garvey’s voice to flourish.
Flying Dream 1 begins with the title track, Garvey reminiscing about his childhood over the top of a peaceful piano and soothing harmonies. In the first verse, he sings: “Mum and my sisters all blissful and feathered, Candlewick swaddled my golden wee brother, Dad’s across town tonight fixing the mirror, Shaking his head at a richer man’s grammar”.
Garvey is a masterful lyricist, and his power comes to the forefront as Elbow adopt a more textured approach. ‘Is It A Bird’ sees the band experiment with jazz which adds abundant layers to their sound. The power of love is the overarching theme of Flying Dream 1. ‘Six Words’ is a fine example of this, as he affectionately sings: “Look who loves me, look who loves me, I know” on the uplifting chorus.
Meanwhile, ‘Come On Blue’ is a delightful stripped-back, acoustic piece that finds Garvey tenderly preaching, “Love transcends anything that ever ends.” However, it is ‘Seldom Seen Kid’ that is the album’s most poignant moment. His father gave the nickname to his friend, Brian Glancy, who died suddenly in 2006, and is also the title for their Mercury Prize-winning fourth record, which they dedicated in his memory.
On the conversational track, Garvey reminisces about Glancy to his wife and how he’d have made her fall head over heels if they met. He serenades, “Babe, if you’d met him, I’d picture you’d sit, blasting my wisdom with two-barrelled wit, Then he’d steal you for dancing, and you’d lend him your arms, And you’d swerve in the chaos of charm”.
The final track, ‘What Am I Without You’, finds Garvey questioning what his existence would be if it wasn’t for the love that he has for his young daughter in what is the most theatrical moment on the album. However, it still veers away from entering the grandiose territory, remaining a warm sense of intimacy thanks to the gentle piano, which soothingly brings the album to a close.
In truth, there isn’t a stand-out single across the album, but that’s no cause for concern. Elbow have proven they know how to write a gargantuan sing-a-longs, yet, Flying Dream 1 sees them challenge themself to refrain from erupting into emphatic choruses. Their decision to venture to the more tranquil side of life makes for a serene experience.
Flying Dream 1 isn’t exhilarating, nor is it going to grab you by your lapels, but it’s got a heartwarming comfortability to it akin to the perfect cup of tea. Its wistful nature makes the album a pleasant companion for the half-cut sentimental late-night winter walks back from the pub that lay ahead as you appreciate life’s intricacies.