Build a Rocket Boys! is Elbow’s first release since winning the Mercury Prize with The Seldom Seen Kid. Following that multi-platinum behemoth is no easy task, particularly for a 20-year-old band whose modest, “aw shucks” demeanor makes Chris Martin seem like a braggart. On these 11 tracks, though, Elbow continues its ascent from cult band to stadium filler, skirting all but the outermost orbits of mainstream pop while focusing on innovative, lushly textured songwriting. Elbow has rarely sounded like anyone else, yet Build a Rocket Boys! draws enough parallels to hitmakers to make it relevant in 2011, finding some sort of left-field compromise between Snow Patrol’s arena anthems and Sigur Rós’ sonic exploration. At the center of the creative storm is Guy Garvey, who sings about the mundane in a way that elevates it to stadium grandeur. The lyrics are specific -- Garvey croons about childhood plans, middle-aged reality, and everyday people who aspire to something greater -- but the music is imaginative and open-ended, with guitars that fade into the ether and arrangements that include vintage organs, electronics, orchestral percussion, harmonies, and the echoing ambience of the recording studio itself. On “High Ideals,” the band locks into a globetrotting trip-hop groove, flirting with a Middle Eastern scale before cooling things off with mariachi horns. A gospel choir makes its way into the next song, “The River,” but the song's thick vocal harmonies are used sparingly, serving as a minimalist backdrop rather than a chest-swelling climax. Build a Rocket Boys! knows when to push forward and when to pull back, and its songs find the accessibility in out-of-the-box thinking without alienating either side of Elbow’s audience: the longtime fans who worry about losing their band to the mainstream, and the recent converts who climbed aboard after The Seldom Seen Kid's success.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey