Thursday, September 18

Where to start with... Elbow.

. Thursday, September 18

Where to start with… Elbow
Last week Elbow won the Mercury Music Prize. You might just have heard about it. Despite not having Burials underground cool or Laura Marlings youthful naivety they walked away with the prize amidst standing ovations and teary eyes. Not a word of disapproval was uttered as writers, fans and musicians alike united in saying that “Yeah actually they really deserve it.” So what better time to delve into the bands back catalogue and guide those less educated on where to begin, what to avoid and the hidden gems.

Essential First Purchase

Asleep In The Back (V2), 2001

Elbow’s first released album was not in fact the first they recorded. Having being signed to Island in 1997 they recorded an album with New Order cohort Steve Osborne which, when the band were dropped, never saw the light of day. Undeterred Guy Garvey et al released 4 EP’s with Manchester label Uglyman before being picked up by V2 to release ‘Asleep In The Back’ in 2000. The album is the perfect introduction to Elbow’s style. The slow paced, powerful falsetto croon of Garvey’s is spread thick across sparse and muted musical backdrops throughout.

From the albums Drowned In Sound review Andy Frankowsi says:

“From the spellbinding sound of an organ in the opening track, 'Any Day Now', to the soothing sound of a piano in the closer, 'Scattered Black And Whites' you will not find any filler. The rolling melody of 'Powder Blue' ends in the sound of a sudden crash of glass, only to wake you from the dream state the song has put you in. 'Bitten By The Tailfly's frightening mesh of moods and over the top guitars will demand your attention. The deep choral breakdown of 'Presuming Ed (Rest Easy)' will take you back to that day dreaming feeling.”

‘Dream like state’ is perhaps the best way to describe ‘Asleep In The Back’ as wave after wave of hypnotic music washes over the listener you are transported to another place, grounded but free. Boasting Guy Garvey’s most spectacular vocal to this day ‘Newborn’ is the instant hit the album needs to resonate with new listeners. Through this song you will pick up on the nuances and dark humour in Elbows music and appreciate the band to the optimum degree. As indulgent as they are tight the tracks on ‘Asleep In The Back’ float and soar in equal measures rarely clocking in at under five minutes each. Garvey’s voice drifts between waif like whispers and booming power with ease, ‘Powder Blue’ is a fantastic example of this, its falsetto heartbreak harmonies could crack even the steeliest of men.
Elbow are one of the most consistent performers in the business yet they have arguably, as yet, failed to better their debut LP which is why it is the definitive start point for anyone wanting to discover the band.

Follow Up Purchase

‘Cast Of Thousands’, (V2), 2003

Elbows second album sees them taking a more direct and traditional approach to song writing with less meandering and exploring a new direct sound. Tracks such as ‘Fallen Angel’, ‘Buttons and Zips’ and ‘Not A Job’ display less of ‘Asleep In The Back’s hypnotics opting instead for a much more conventional style and time frame whilst never losing the Elbow magic. The band gained mainstream attention when 2 statues were found by the M1 in Mansfield. Elbow revealed the characters to be Elle and Bo and that they were to appear on ‘Cast Of Thousands’ artwork. Elle and Bo subsequently followed the band around the 2003 festival circuit before being auctioned off for charity. Glastonbury 2002 has a special role in ‘Cast Of Thousands, specifically on the track ‘Grace Under Pressure in which the chorus is sung by the bands audience at the festival. Fans who attended the show were asked to register their details online and then received a written credit in the ‘Cast Of Thousands’ artwork. It’s the little touches like this that are the reason people hold Elbow so close to their heart.

The album itself however is by no means a self congratulatory love in. Elbow have clearly matured on album number 2 but in no way lost their world weary edge. ‘Fugitive Motel’ is the classic tale of a band on the road and missing home with Guy Garvey longing to see his lover (“I blow you a kiss, It should reach you tomorrow”) and her attempts to keep him grounded amidst his rising popularity, (“"I'm tired," I said, “You always look tired," she said “I'm admired," I said, “You always look tired," she said”). ‘Crawling With Idiots’ meanwhile is Garvey’s attempts at seducing a barmaid, (“I’ve never seen anything quite like you, In here, Come on it’s not serious, I just need arms tonight”). Without a shadow of a doubt Elbows true genius lies in the lyrics, the pure poetry of the words being scattered over the music.

Many see ‘Cast Of Thousands’ as being better than ‘Asleep In The Back’ and that, like this feature, is very much open to debate. What is indisputable though is that the two albums compliment each other perfectly and are both essential not just for Elbow fans but for music fans.

Hardcore Fans.

‘Noisebox EP, (Uglyman), 1998

Not necessarily essential nor cheap to acquire the Noisebox EP is nonetheless an interesting rummage into Elbows history and a chance to hear early versions of ‘Red’ and ‘Powder Blue’ as well as one of Elbows heaviest tracks in ‘George Lassos The Moon’. Named after the ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ character George and his romantic proclamation to a girl that he would “Lasso the moon for you” the song taps into the desire to escape small town life and failing, (“More than this, I'm more than this, The more I try, The less it works, Enough is enough”) much like George. Some of the recordings quality, the ability to find tracks elsewhere and its rareness render the ‘Noisebox EP’ one purely for collectors but it is nonetheless well worth the venture.


‘Leaders Of The Free World’, 2005, (V2)

Only being four albums into their career Elbow have not, as yet, produced a stinker or one to truly run from however ‘Leaders…’ is certainly less acclaimed and complete than it’s two predecessors and therefore in this unfortunate bracket. Whilst boasting some fantastic stand out tracks ‘Forget Myself’, ‘Picky Bugger’ and ‘Mexican Standoff’ being the best, too much of the LP meanders aimlessly looking for direction and purpose. ‘The Stops’, ‘An Imagined Affair’ and ‘My Very Best’ in particular float away with no sight in return.

Like we say this is not a bad album at all, upon its release it received love from critics and fans alike however both those camps would probably agree in saying it is the weakest of Elbows output. This will be amended if and when they release a jazz funk opus in 2015.

10 Track Mix tape.

For the Itunes savvy out there.

‘Any Day Now’- ‘Asleep In The Back’
‘Picky Bugger’- ‘Leaders Of The Free World’
‘Forget Myself’- ‘Leaders Of The Free World’
‘New Born’- ‘Asleep In The Back’
‘Fugitive Motel’- ‘Cast Of Thousands’
‘Fallen Angel’- ‘Cast Of Thousands’
‘George Lassos The Moon’
‘Powder Blue’- ‘Asleep In The Back’
‘Mexican Standoff’- ‘Leaders Of The Free World’
‘Grace Under Pressure’- ‘Cast Of Thousands’

'Grounds For Divorce'



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