‘Little Fictions‘ didn’t even even make Necessary Evil 2017. In truth, it was probably the saddest album of the year, Elbow had long been one of my favourite bands and it was clear that they were finished as a going artistic concern. ‘Little Fictions‘, to me, sounded like ten borderline heartbreaking pathetic attempts to recapture the commercially successful sound of One Day Like This, a song they had released ten years previously.
Even though the sad, death march of an album didn’t make the cut (a year where Lil Yachty was number 44) I was still saddened enough to mention the mess in my post on the winner, Perfume Genius, stating that “Little Fictions’ was a disappointing mini-shark jumping by Elbow, failing to build on the shock factor of last album highlight Charge as I’d hoped”. Ah, Charge, a career highlight and shining light among the very good ‘The Take Off and Landing of Everything‘ album. I was hoping that it was pointing to future directions as a crazy psychedelic prog rock, but instead it was obviously one last hurrah from a band now content to rest on its laurels and pander to festival crowds already won. It was a crying shame, but Elbow were dead.
Where then fuck, then, did ‘Giants of All Sizes’ come from? Something obviously lit a fire underneath the band to inspire one of the greatest albums of their already extraordinarily accomplished back catalogue. There were deaths among the band’s inner circle, including singer Guy Garvey’s father, plus untold negative changes in the world outside that only made ‘Little Fictions’s listless cheeriness all the more out of place. Suddenly, Elbow are wondering what is even the point of being Elbow anymore. “I’m a bird in a hurricane/With the heaviest heart jack hammering in me… hey how’ d’ya keep your eyes ablaze/In these faith free, hope free, charity free days?“.
‘Giants of All Sizes’ is an astonishing comeback record, with Elbow not only self aware enough to question what place their ‘come ‘ere mate, let’s have a hug and a pint’ shtick of recent times could possibly have a place in a world of divisions and distrust, but also use that doubt to inspire such amazing music that it unequivocally stakes their place. ‘GOAS’ is a more experimental album than Elbow have made for a long time, harking back to their early career when they would frequently call to mind their prog rock influences (Guy Garvey: “I grew up listening to every Genesis record. I learned to write harmonies by listening to Peter Gabriel.” Trust me, that was even a less cool thing to admit back then) that they’d laid untouched recently in favour of easier listening festival pleasers. The songs are more disjointed, more paranoid and more dark than recent Elbow fare, and even though the literal sonic similarities are sparse (save the odd glitchy beat here and there) it’s strangely the Elbow album most similar to their admitted influences Radiohead. Y’know, expect good*.
(*I’m just playing, Radiohead, you know I love you)
This isn’t a radical reinvention of their sound though. ‘GOAS’ may be richer and more experimental than anything they’ve released in perhaps a decade, but it is still absolutely Elbow. The songs may contain swathes of electronica and occasionally discordant sound effects, but the songs are still bangers. The album still has skyscraping choruses and singalong lyrics that might be ever so bizarre and even satirise the very idea of communal singing, but still merit a singalong! When the strings break in on The Delayed 3:15 they may be strange, scratchy and agitated, but they still manage to stir and inspire like all the best Elbow songs. And among all this we still have My Trouble, which might be the most ‘Elbow’ song Elbow have ever made, but it reminds us how wonderful that proposition can be.
An amazing album. Third best of the year, in fact. But are Elbow correct in opining that the sunny eyed optimism and warmth is suddenly redundant in the modern climate?
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, we’ll get back to that, OK…?