When the pandemic hit and Brighton’s Theatre Royal stood empty for months, Elbow were able to use its atmospheric surroundings to record their ninth album, having started writing the songs individually in their home studios during the first lockdown. The result feels like a logical progression from 2019’s Giants of All Sizes, an album that was at odds with the prevailing, Spotify-friendly currents; one that asked listeners to approach it as a single suite of songs.
A sense of space permeates throughout here, the band’s long-established love of prog evident in the gently meandering, loose-limbed arrangements, recalling at times a more earthbound Laughing Stock-era Talk Talk. With the exception of impassioned closer What Am I Without You, there is nothing on Flying Dream 1 that leaps out at the listener; instead these songs represent subtle gradations of softly articulated warmth and empathy. After the Eclipse, with its gorgeous-sounding invitation to “come out into the sun”, is lifted by Sarah Field’s clarinet flourishes; Is It a Bird is a masterclass in minimalist restraint. But really this is an album that (once again) quietly demands to be heard, and enjoyed, as an inseparable whole.