By the close of 2009, Elbow had journeyed from critic's choice to household names. As the sold out crowd exited from the bands biggest ever headline show at the Manchester Evening News Arena on September 18th 2009, this became a fitting end to what had been arguably been the best two years of elbows lives.
'The Seldom Seen Kid' had made Elbow one of the biggest bands in the UK. 'One Day Like This', the soundtrack to World Cups and Olympics together with what seemed like continuous radio play had elevated the band into a wider arena, garnering more and more acclaim. The last couple of years had seen the album win the coveted Mercury Music Album Of The Year for 2008, whilst 'One Day Like This' and 'Grounds For Divorce' collected an Ivor Novello apiece. Elbow were named Best British Band at the 2009 BRITS , picked up a South Bank Show award and were also heralded for their 'Outstanding Contribution to British Music' at the 2009 NME Awards. For a band whose cabinet previously contained a solitary 'Best Live Band' award from Time Out it was a remarkable change of gear.
Elbow had always been respected for their music. The only band in NME history to have four consecutive 9/10 album reviews, they had already been described as 'national treasures' by The Guardian whilst the likes of John Cale (who included 'Switching Off' in his Desert Island Discs) and Michael Stipe had declared themselves fans. Having narrowly lost out to PJ Harvey in their first Mercury nomination in 2001 for debut 'Asleep In The Back' and alongside a BRIT nomination for 'Best New British Band' on the same album, 'The Seldom Seen Kid' in many ways saw the band come full circle but with one crucial difference; this time the perpetual nearlymen were the winners.
Plans for the follow up to 'The Seldom Seen Kid' had long been in the works. Whilst touring and promoting 'Seldom' the band began demoing the songs that would become 'build a rocket boys!' They even had a mini studio built at every venue to ensure ideas were recorded and not forgotten. Following a break through September and October 2009, Elbow reconvened in traditional style on the Isle Of Mull to begin sifting through these recordings. The premise, given the huge anticipation already swirling around the band, was almost implausibly simple and straightforward as Guy Garvey explains in characteristic fashion: 'We concentrated as always on making a record that would leave the listener somewhere other than it found them. We are still an album band before anything else and the phrase whenever we got stuck was simple, 'what do we want to hear next?'
The first two songs to see the light of day during those sessions and a follow up stint at Doves studio in Cheshire in many ways defined the lyrical sweep of the album and the themes that would predominate. Whilst 'Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl' saw Guy journey back to his youth, the period where Elbow were becoming a serious going concern, 'High Ideals' fast forwarded to the present and became the portrait of the artist as a mature man. From the beautiful naivety and possibilities of youth to the more grounded yet developed drive of the mature adult. This is where 'build a rocket boys!' would find its themes. Musically, the band also travelled back in many ways, sentiments and rhythms that graced their debut album 'Asleep in the Back' can often be heard especially on 'Lippy Kids' and album closer 'Dear Friends'.
A month after the MEN show, the band returned to their spiritual home, the Big Room at Salford's Blueprint Studios where 'The Seldom Seen Kid' and 'Leaders Of The Free World' had been made. Adding to their collection of musical instruments, including an organ bought from a local social club that leads the charge on 'Lippy Kids', the band settled down to a recording schedule with keyboardist Craig Potter once again in the producer's chair. Old friends returned and new friends were welcomed. The Hallé Youth Choir provide the swelling voices that grace six of the final eleven tracks, their locality and youth subtly linking the two main themes of the record; home and community.
The Soup Collective, long time visual collaborators and fellow Mancunians were on hand to document this process, the first fruits of their filming being uploaded on Boxing Day of 2010 in the form of a Blueprint Studios version of 'Lippy Kids'. The first track to be heard from the new album reassured fans that the band were not simply 'writing for the arenas that already beckon'.
Oliver East, another Mancunian and the creator of the reinterpretation of Piccadilly station that adorned 'The Seldom Seen Kid' was once again drafted in to create the artwork that accompanies the album.
Early reactions to the album have been overwhelmingly positive, Q stating simply in an early review that 'It's simply another excellent Elbow record'. And it is.