Iwill be quite straightforward: I have never really fancied Elbow. I mean, they certainly are a great band, they’ve always been. I just got to know them as that group who were making some kinds of bombastic and orchestral alternative rock, under the shadow of hidden melancholy, dizziness and… alcohol (“We feel like booze is our sixth member…”, stated the Bury-based outfit in an interview in 2014). After all, you don’t win a Mercury Prize if you have nothing to say at all. And the band did it back in 2008 (with ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’). Reasons why had no expectations at all, on ‘Little Fictions’, Elbow’s new album out on Polydor.
Listening to it, though, has been like being punched in the stomach. ‘The Take Off and Landing of Everything’ came out three years ago as both a celebration of adulthood and a self-portrait of frontman Guy Garvey, who was clearly struggling to find some balance after the end of his long-term relationship with the writer Emma Jane Unsworth. Many things have changed, since then. Both for the band (now a quartet, following Richard Jupp’s exit) and its frontman. A completely different scenario opens to our eyes ‘Little Fictions’, right when Garvey’s life is going to dramatically change with the upcoming fatherhood. He got married to the actress Rachel Stirling nearly a year ago, starting a new life and – most likely – a new creative phase in his career, as it always happens when it comes to big changes.
‘Magnificent (She Says)’, the opening track, is a hymn to beauty and moves on delicate guitar riffs and gentle string arrangements. The new direction taken by the band appears clearly on ‘Gentle Storm’, which is probably the most intricate yet delightful chapter of the entire full-length. The drum pattern itself is mind-blowing and the track – built on a very simple outline – is a fragile storm of a broad range of feelings. “Fall in love with me, everyday” sings Garvey.
‘Trust The Sun’ and ‘All Disco’, then, are two sides of the same medals; they encompass Elbow’s characteristics of a band who have seemingly reached a high level of maturity. ‘Head For Supplies’ more than other tracks, also reminds me of the celestial atmosphere of ‘A Day Like This’, although the song itself is something completely different, taking the listener to a softer dimension.
‘Little Fictions’ shows all its solidness when it’s halfway through. It’s an intense album and you can feel it on your skin, although for some reasons it tricks you, giving the impression to be motionless. Cuts like ‘K2’, a dreamy journey through soft percussions and piano, or ‘Montparnasse’, anticipate the finale. The title-track is an experimental and triumphant 8-minute number, while ‘Kindling’ is the happy ending. Garvey delicately sings: “The silence and the waiting and the rush of all aboard / Fifty souls to a carriage I’m trying hard to be ignored / Then my telephone shakes into life and I see your name / And the wheat fields explode into gold either side of the train”.
There they are, Elbow, entering their middle age, the right time to finally settle and lift their emotions in a slightly different way if compared to what they were used to do. The record comes to an end while it’s still building up its velvety atmosphere. Melancholy and that feeling of time passing by are there, framed within a soundscape that highlights all the band’s symphonic hallmarks, creating a totally new experience at the same time. And it’s all unexpected, and magnificent… She says.
Polydor | 2017
Tracklist & Stream