The cover of Flying Dream 1, the newest album by Elbow, consists of strangely juxtaposing images. There’s a perfect suburban home with a slightly overgrown flower garden. This contrasts starkly with the image of two small kids with salmon-covered boxing gloves, both swinging wildly at one another. One remains barefoot and the other dons navy blue Nike sneakers. An adult stands sternly behind them, the constraints of vinyl margins masking their face. The flowers and house are color-coordinated and pleasing to the eye, and yet the wild children make up the foreground, and the flowers remain hidden. The human eye struggles to make sense of such an odd combination of factors, and yet it cannot bring itself to look away.
Perhaps that combination of oddities and constricted beauty is meant to distract from the bleak and often heartbreaking lyrics that make up Flying Dream 1. The lyrics paired alongside an oddly calming instrumental configures a strange experience for the listener.
This album was strange and different for the band in a number of ways. For one, the songs were written primarily during quarantine, which enabled band members Guy Garvey, Craig Potter, Mark Potter, and Pete Turner to take more creative liberties than they had previously. The result of these lack of typical creative constraints is a calming, freeing, yet nostalgic body of work by the British alternative-rock band.
That sentiment for freedom is echoed in the chorus of the chorus of the album’s opening track, of which the work is named. Garvey repeats “step into the air” encouraging the listener to abandon preconceptions and judgements and liberate themselves. That notion of stepping into the air connects the singer with their audience. At first it’s “I step into the air,” and then it’s a request for others to do so. That part is most intriguing about this song: how it connects the audience with the song while retaining its individuality.
“Six Words,” track #4 of the album, however, is clearly meant to resemble a conversation, or multiple conversations, between two specific people. It’s about the tantalizing and fear-inducing moment of saying “I’m falling in love with you” in a relationship (the six words in question). The song illustrates the singer’s turmoil of emotions. In the beginning, it’s “I’m fuzzy, I’ve stumbled onto/Some heavenly escalator,” whereas at the end of the song, the chorus repeats itself three times, and it’s “I’m part of everything again/Look who loves me/Look who loves me, I know/I know the view from up on top of the world.” The transition between fear to security is evident in how this song transitions. The repetition of the chorus is particularly effective at illustrating the evolution of the speaker’s emotions. That story is powerful and beautiful to observe, calling back to the constricted beauty of the record.
“The Seldom Seen Kid” calls for the preservation of time and beautiful memories. These beautiful memories are represented in lyrics like: “the pictures are whispering” and “roses are heavy” and “caught in forever.” The roses in particular call back to the flower garden in the album artwork. They carry a lot of weight, and are very pretty, but protect a lot of damage. This song effectively illustrates the complexities of the past and how humans feel about it. There’s this consistent longing for how things used to be, yet we are unable to escape the pain of what the past brings.
Elbow created a multifaceted record that surmises an abundance of human emotion. Whether it’s confusion looking at the two kids fighting, heartbreak at the lyrics, or calming meditation at the simple instrumentals, Flying Dream 1 has something to love with every feeling.