Today I’m going to tell you why I love Elbow and their unconventional, often sing-able, superbly arranged and poignant brand of music. First of all I like how lead singer Guy Garvey sounds like he sings wandering through country streets looking up at the sky, or sitting outside a pub, head nodding in the evening haze. Far from the chic squeaky clean Wellington boot sound of many rock bands, Elbow reminds me more of a worn, mud-clotted Kicker boot, a solid shoe that has some weight to it, and a story to tell, yet still manages to be stylish, as the sound develops. The sound they produce seems to have travelled along a gritty road trailing from early albums to newer beats such as “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” and the growly “Ground For Divorce”. You can tell already I’m going to have fun quoting the bizarre lyrics to some of their tracks…
The songs are typically slow and somehow manage to be simultaneously earthy and light – take “Grace under Pressure” as an example. The manic syncopated drums, and layered guitars, violins and synth, could be focused on and allowed to become overwhelming, but instead we find ourselves relaxing into the choir’s rhythm, enjoying following that simple melody-line as it repeats and builds, rises and falls.
Other songs such as “Leaders of the Free World”, with its impressive climax, and “Fallen Angel”, with its Feeder-like vibe, are catchy, in an intense, moody way, while classics such as “Red” and “Powder Blue” are simply beautiful, made up of almost-hypnotic forever-falling cadences, and that tragic, delicate voice again. In a moment of lightness and clarity we hear the wry lyrics: “I’ll be the corpse in your bath-tub… useless. I’ll be as deaf as a post … if you hold me” in the superbly ‘out-there’ track “Newborn”, which is definitely a grower. The actual singing surprises by the way it subtly moves from a subdued and beaten-down tone to fuller stronger notes, and often we sense that the punchy or droning chords mimic the strength of the voices – including the strange use of choir in the latest album, The Seldom-Seen Kid, which features a broader sound.
This 2008 album was the Brit award-winner, and, while it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, its blend of provocative, strong themes, energetic rhythms, continually surprising words and melodies, which often look at pity, memory and disappointment, combined with excellent production by the band themselves made this product distinct from most other albums out there. To take a sample, “Mirrorball” provides some gentle moments, creating a wide space in your mind as you hear the broad orchestral backing some more private, contemplative, even romantic, lyrics. The beautifully arranged hits “One Day Like This” (better turned up loud, especially for the euphoric line “Holy cow I love your eyes. And only now I see the light”) and “The Bones of You” (about an encounter with a lover which makes the “singer” character question his busy “work ’til I break” lifestyle) – these are accompanied by more straightforward evocative tracks like the crude, less musically dense “Some riot”, which is about a friend who has a drinking problem: “I think when he’s drinking he’s drowning some riot. What is my friend trying to hide?” The writers show they are conscious of the problems of binge-drinking as a coping strategy, and the effect this can have on a friendship. Repeat listening makes your hair stand on end by the time we hear the deep and mournful voice humming at the end of the track, and you feel the sadness of the situation.
Probably their best album so far, it is definitely worth a few listens in those quiet moments – you will find yourself gradually transported away from your situation, in a way that is sometimes relaxing, sometimes more fully engaging, and as you listen you will probably find yourself entering into the feelings the band evoke, as I did, feeling along with them you are “five years ago and three thousand miles away”.