“We realised we were making a record free of the usual creative guidelines,” explains Elbow frontman Guy Garvey about the making of their ninth studio album ‘Flying Dream 1’. “We love patient, quiet, whole albums like the last Talk Talk records, John Martyn’s ‘Sold Air’ and PJ Harvey‘s ‘Is This Desire’.”
He’s not wrong: ‘Flying Dream 1’ is by far the most downbeat, mellow collection the Bury band have put to record. Written remotely during lockdown, the album was eventually brought to life inside the grand confines of the Theatre Royal Brighton. There, the four-piece fleshed out the songs while recording in the kind of room where they’d normally be rapturously received by an approving audience.
The result is a soothing, slow-burning collection which reflects on times and friends gone by. Nowhere is this more apparent than on ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, an ode to the late Manchester musician Bryan Glancy who also inspired Elbow’s landmark Mercury Prize-winning 2008 album of the same name. This wistful song sees Garvey imagining his close friend sweeping his wife (the actress Rachael Stirling) across a dancefloor. “Babe, if you’d met him, I’d picture you’d sit, blasting my wisdom with two-barrelled wit,” he croons over tapping drum brushes and a comforting bass clarinet. “Then he’d steal you for dancing and you’d lend him your arms / And you’d swerve in the chaos of charm.”
‘Six Words’, according to Garvey, has “similar sentiments” to their 2008 track ‘Mirrorball’. But while it certainly oozes that same air of romance, it’s more slow-building and, as a result, not quite as spine-tingling. Reflecting on his teenage years, it eventually opens up into a lush, twinkling ballad that’s wrapped in Garvey’s lulling vocals as he reassuringly sings: “Look who loves me, look who loves me, I know.”
The album’s title track, meanwhile, finds the Elbow frontman feeling nostalgic for better times yet again, as memories of his entire family come flooding back on this beautiful, wintry track. “Mum and my sisters all blissful and feathered / Candle wick swaddled my golden brother / Dad’s across town tonight fixing the mirror / Shaking his head at a richer man’s grammar,” he recounts, before he finds himself merrily “stepping into the air”.
On ‘Is It A Bird’, Garvey spins the immortal words from an old Superman series on their head as he contemplates an unidentified moving object in the sky over the kind of instrumental you might hear at a late-night jazz club. Elsewhere, faded seaside organs wash through album closer ‘What Am I Without You’ as the Elbow frontman dotes on his son while looking to the future.
‘Flying Dream 1’ may be devoid of gnarly anthems like ‘Grounds For Divorce’ or grandiose moments like ‘One Day Like This’, but the record’s unhurried approach and unassuming manner will still bring comfort to those who seek solace in Garvey’s lyrics and Elbow’s adept consistency.