Looking Back on the Lippy Kids
British alt-rockers Elbow take a look back on their fifth studio album build a rocket boys!, engaging in nostalgia balanced somewhere between sentimentalizing and appreciating lost youth. The album hit number two on the UK Album Charts, and with the band coming together in 1990 and releasing their first LP in 2001 it marks something of a belated breakthrough.
“The Birds” and “Lippy Kids” start off build a rock boys! with sonorous choruses that tends towards the epic, their slow paces building towards big, expansive sound. Elbow’s prog-rock influences appear in the percussive, fuzzy rock guitars and futuristic electro effects on “The Birds.” Meanwhile, “Lippy Kids” evokes a sunny summer morning in the countryside, starting with soft, poppy piano chords underpinned by a slow, melodic bass. Vocalist Guy Garvey’s sensitive tenor invokes the “simian stroll” and the “hour-long hungry kisses” of his youth, asking of teenagers, “Do they know those days are golden?”
On “Jesus is a Rochdale Girl,” Garvey’s soothing voice dallies over a warm, gentle acoustic guitar and garnishes of quiet, melodic synth. The song is the album’s foundation and also its softest moment, a brief interlude when Garvey can reflect on a time when he had “nothing to be proud of and nothing to regret.” Elbow pick up the pace of “With Love” and “Neat Little Rows.” The former is percussive and upbeat, featuring melodic synth flourishes and choral vocals from the Halle Youth Choir. It’s the brightest moment of the album, carefree and sprightly. “Neat Little Rows” is darker and more of a straightforward rock song, with low, distorted guitars and a driving riff.
The band’s focus on childhood memories comes across as sincere for most of the album, but the last four tracks feel supersaturated with saccharine nostalgia. “The River” has a wonderful emotive piano that lingers in a dreamy soundscape, but it quickly veers toward the sentimental in its over-eloquent lyricism. “Open Arms” and “Dear Friends” fall into that trap as well, but even when build a rocket boys! becomes a little too mawkish, Elbow keeps its melodic focus intact and carries on.