Saturday, 15 March 2008

Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid

Elbow - Weather To Fly

I first heard Elbow on one of those late night car journeys listening to the radio. The track was Any Day Now and I thought it was amazing. Slightly dissonant, almost like a medieval chant and it stuck in my head for days. There have been a further two albums since that debut which are both filled with consistently interesting tracks and increasingly honest lyrics dealing with Guy Garvey's relationships and emotions. Why anyone would bother listening to a band like Coldplay when they could have Elbow instead is beyond me but there we go. The band have said that this may be their last album proper with future work released on ep's and singles so is it a fitting farewell (of sorts)?

The album begins with Starlings; a cacophony of sound which suddenly cuts out to reveal a quiet glockenspiel punctured with loud horns and eventually Guy Garvey's voice sounding as heartfelt as ever. Bones Of You takes its starting point from the power of a song to transport you back in time to a memory - 'And I'm five years ago/And three thousand miles away' but we should realise that Garvey is not a rose tinted spectacles kind of guy. Mirrorball is a great example of what Elbow do well; a gorgeous ballad with piano, drums, soaring strings and Garvey's voice up close and personal, filled with emotion ' When we make the moon our mirror ball/the street's an empty stage;/the city sirens - violins./Everything has changed.' The tempo lifts with first single Grounds For Divorce, a down and dirty, bluesey, western influenced anthem with a kick. And then we have Audience With The Pope, a challenge to religion which with its Russian sounding melody comes on like a Bond theme 'I've an audience with the Pope/And I'm saving the world at eight/But if she says she needs me/Everybody's gonna have to wait'. Weather to Fly has a simple melody and three verses which go round in a similar way to Any Day Now, building in intensity, a beautiful track about the band's wish to follow their own course. Then we have the huge Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver a song which soars lyrically, vocally and musically. Richard Hawley guest duets with Garvey on The Fix, a real character piece which is steeped in smoky, after hours atmosphere. Some Riot is a quiet song, a plaintive cry to a friend in trouble. The big crowd pleaser One Day Like This is the penultimate track, filled with strings and a rousing chorus, sure to be a festival and live favourite with it's chorus of 'It's looking like a beautiful day'. The closing track Friend Of Ours is a heartfelt tribute to the seldom seen kid of the title, Bryan Glancy, a friend of the band who died two years ago. 'Never very good at goodbyes/So gentle shoulder charge.../Love you mate.' Touching stuff.

This is a fantastic collection of songs, not the kind of watered down pop that will make them a chart success like Coldplay or Snow Patrol but the sound of a band confident in their abilities (this album was self-produced for the first time). They have always been good at creating depth musically, and with the honesty of some of the lyrics and Garvey given full range with his voice this is a fitting tribute not only to Glancy but to the band themselves for following their own direction.


John Self 13 December 2008 at 16:07  

Well, never an early adopter with music, I finally got this album this week, after scanning the Best of the Year lists in the papers with a view to picking off some high flyers. I got this, Fleet Foxes and Amadou and Mariam's Welcome to Mali. (Have eyes on Cut Copy and My Morning Jacket but my local Zavvi didn't have them.)

A very exciting album it is too, and all the more so because I now have three of their back catalogue to pick up. Interesting how one can be aware of a band for years - didn't Asleep in the Back win some award, or get shortlisted anyway? - without ever actually trying them.

Most overplayed track for me at the moment is 'Grounds for Divorce', which of course I already knew without realising I did, but its wit, muscle, structure, riffingness and sheer out-and-out brilliance make it one of my songs of the year hands down.

Also, the fact that Guy Garvey looks like the bastard offspring of Simon Armitage and Paul Heaton now makes perfect sense.

William Rycroft 14 December 2008 at 13:19  

Glad you've been enjoying it. I think Asleep In The Back was shortlisted for the Mercury, but don't quote me on that. I think all of their albums are worth a listen but would be hard pressed to pick a favourite (that sounds like a good thing though). Enjoy catching up!

John Self 29 January 2009 at 10:39  

Still catching up... Have picked up Elbow's three previous albums (four quid a pop in HMV) and have been listening to them for the last couple of weeks. So far I think albums two and three, Cast of Thousands and Leaders of the Free World are probably better than The Seldom Seen Kid, in that there are almost no weak links. (For me, on SSK tracks like 'Audience with the Pope' and 'Weather to Fly' are not up to the standard of the rest.)

Apropos of that, I was interested to hear them on Jonathan Ross's radio show on Saturday (how long it is since we've been able to say that!), and Garvey talking about how the concept of the album as a complete entity is so important to them that they actually write songs specifically to go between other ones. I wonder if that might result in the occasional filler among the killers.

Of course because I am listening on car CD most of the time, I don't know most of the song titles, and so have had to resort to Amazon to say that some of my favourites are 'Mexican Standoff' and 'The Everthere' from Leaders of the Free World, and 'Snooks (Progress Report)' and 'I've Got Your Number' from Cast of Thousands. (Incidentally, how odd that the back of my CD box of Leaders of the Free World calls track 2 'Picky Bugger' whereas Amazon's tracklisting calls it 'Picky Bastard'.)

Haven't really listened to Asleep in the Back enough to give a firm opinion. But already I am happy to have discovered a new favourite band, albeit a decade or so late. Intelligent, muscular, experimental, and very English. What more could mortal men desire?

William Rycroft 29 January 2009 at 11:37  

I'm glad you've been enjoying them John. We had an Elbow-a-thon the other day when some friends came round for dinner and it was great to hear all four albums together. I wouldn't care to go for an in-depth analysis given the fact that the meal was accompanied by wine but as you say:

'Intelligent, muscular, experimental, and very English. What more could mortal men desire?'

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