Little Fictions by Elbow is, by now, six plays in, my very favourite album by Guy and pals. It has managed to wriggle its way into my life and take up residency in one of the unused corridors of my heart – I didn’t know there were that many left, with little room to spare after The Blue Nile, American Music Club and Ryan Adams have barged their way in over the last 20 plus years (along with many others…). It has, above all, made me realise that Elbow are physically incapable of writing a bad song. There’ll be those who say it’s not demanding enough, too Radio 2 blah blah blah. I’ll argue against. Take courage.
I remember first discovering their casual genius and intimate way of surveying melancholy in myriad moods and colours in the early part of last decade. Asleep in the Back was a debut of such maturity and pure honesty.
They went on to win the Mercury Prize and I was worried that the 'sell out' tag might become reluctantly attached. Yet they remain a miracle band, a gang of true, lovely mates, one for the ages. They rely not on musical innovation (like say Radiohead) but on an uncanny ability to bring souls together with complex melody, create a communion, a sense of belonging in their space. They care about the craft of songwriting and its potential for huge impact upon an often sceptical public.
This time around is no exception. There are no weak links. Every song sounds lived in, timeless in that Elbow way. They were heirs to Talk Talk's magisterial crown and never took on the role willingly. So you can hear moments, moments where they start to riff off each other a little, create a motorik groove, the spirit of Hollis and crew reflecting in the riffs, the drum fills, the perfectly weighted keyboard lines. "Trust the Sun" is a case in point, slowly building, the ebb and flow of the tide, seamlessly punctuated by soft piano arpeggios and a brilliantly poetic refrain worthy of Auden ("I just don’t trust the sun to rise / When I can’t see your eyes / You’re my reason for breathing"), nestling up against a warm, moody bass thrum. It continues and another Talk Talk reverie emerges from the shadows, slowing into a delicious fade out.
And them lyrics, oh the flaming lyrics! Burnished amber and yellow and, inevitably, tinged with regret and sublime interventions. When you encounter a heart stopping chorus like this: "Now I’m here at your side / As though the street that meets our feet might know/ We try to rhyme our stride and head for supplies" ("Head for Supplies")- you know you are in the company of a true bard, a man who can mine the hearts of men and find truth, regret and love in all its crazy glory.
The depth, the layers are coursing through the red blood in the veins of these songs, which are more than just songs – they pulse, flow, make your heart leap somersaults and fall back into waiting arms, the arms of friendship, happiness, profound and timeless experience. Garvey captures the joys of love, of being together, the simple pleasures of couples, arms entwined, lovers uninhibited, smiles all aglow. His lived in voice rises an octave and you spring forward with him, wanting to know where he will end his search for the ultimate in heart string pulling. Ah, there’s another, and another, look up and see the stars. They’re glowing. You’re in them, reflected, endlessly.
And again - "We glide / We spin / You end and I begin / I made this mess for you / To sift through for all time...." It continues in an even more sumptuous vein, "Firebrand and Angel" adding a deeper, darker tone ("terror sublime would turn me blue"), reminiscent of those earlier EPs when the name Elbow was still tantalisingly out of reach, lacking familiarity - an enveloping darkness, still welcoming, beckoning.
"K2" is bass driven, employing Guy’s trademark throwaway lines ("Dickhead’s done a runner and he wonders if anyone cares…") surrounded by mini cascades of guitar, hitting a tribal groove. "Montparnasse" is delicate, insistent, the burr of ‘love’ reverberating in Guy’s Manc accent, here to hug the hate out of everything. Its epic line "Serious love for the longest of lives" encapsulates the charm and peerless beauty of this most cherished of crews.
The massive title track is an antidote to "One day like this", a song which screamed sell out and became lost in its celebration of intimacy, too much flag waving and hurled plastic beer bottles at festival stages. This blasts the cobwebs – "I’m trying to focus on the issues of the day please / Your paper’s upside down / The radio’s in Chinese" – there’s even an angry rasp in the voice. Of course, it comes full circle, Guy proclaiming "Life’s the original miracle". Ultimately, Elbow offer the hand of hope amidst the hunger and despair of modern living, the anonymity of online contact simply blown apart by honesty, truth, belief and, above bloody all, LOVE. Al Green was right. As the song fades (and you don’t want it to finish, like ever…) his baritone rises up anew, slight changes afoot – "LOVE’s the original miracle".
I adore this band - I mean, ADORE. They make me feel better when I am down, they fill me with words and ideas, they make me want to tell others about how bloody important they are. I cannot recommend them and this album enough.
Review by HUGH OGILVIE