Elbow does one thing quite well: celebrate ordinary life with music that gently hints at the extraordinary. Poet of the everyman, leader Guy Garvey writes with particular fondness of friends, cigs and alcohol, especially in combination. Yet he does so more articulately than the average guy, and sings with even finer grace while his band backs him with atmospheric-yet-approachable fusions of Peter Gabriel, later-day Talk Talk and Radiohead at their quietest.
Like the other old friends who comprise his band, Garvey approached his 40th birthday as he crafted The Take Off and Landing of Everything, and some of the quintet’s sixth album deals with the breakup of his long-term relationship. But he’s been writing about comings and goings and getting older — subjects alluded to in the album’s title — since Elbow’s beginnings, and such resoluteness permeates a disc low in surprises. There’s a refreshing change of scenery in “New York Morning,” but even here Garvey focuses on the quotidian: “Me, I see a city and I hear a million voices/ Planning, drilling, welding, carrying their fingers to the nub.”
It all might be a little underwhelming if it weren’t for the compassion Garvey invests in these lengthy but largely restrained lullabies for grown-ups, or for the band’s unerringly dignified ensemble performances. Despite their continued warmth, Elbow still aren’t eager to please: There are few instantly memorable choruses or indelible hooks here. But just as 2008′s Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid boasted the arena-sized sing-along “One Day Like This,” Take Off contains “My Sad Captains,” a toast to lifelong friendship so sweeping and forthright that the rest gets carried along in its beer-earnest bear hug. “If it’s so we only pass this way but once/ What a perfect waste of time,” Garvey croons of precious times spent with his mates while singing for us all.