Nobody could ever accuse Elbow of over-immediacy. That said, having taken years over their debut album, Asleep In The Back, they’ve spat out the following two at two-year intervals and the title track of 2005’s Leaders Of The Free World hinted at a newfound sense of purpose. However, as anyone who has spent time with any of their three releases to date will testify, Guy Garvey’s songs work best when given time to infect the listener with their subtle charms, and they’re generally very much worth the wait.
Here too, the quintet don’t exactly start with all guns blazing. Album opener -Starlings’ begins so quietly you’d barely know it’s there, lulling the listener into a false sense of mediocrity, before a wall of brass and strings clatters you over the head and demands you take notice, and Garvey’s voice wafts in on a wave of deliciously self-deprecating chat-up lines: ‘So yes, I guess I’m asking you / To back a horse that’s good for glue and nothing else / But find a man that’s truer than / Find a man that needs you more than I‘. And that’s just the beginning.
From the scintillating middle eight on -The Bones Of You’ to the lilting country of -An Audience With The Pope’, the uncomfortably honesty of -Some Riot’ to stunning lead single -Grounds For Divorce’, Elbow have never sounded more comfortable in their own skins. Meanwhile, Garvey gets better as a lyricist with each album, by turns barbed and cushioned, taking in everything from ‘twisted karaoke’ to his ‘chamois creased’ face. Elsewhere, the superb Richard Hawley joins in the fun on -The Fix’, the greatest song about horse-racing ever penned.
Elbow have morphed from an interesting festival band into a main event in their own right, quietly creating some of the most exquisite and progressive (in a good way) music to come out of Britain in the new millennium, and in Garvey they have the finest chronicler of extraordinary love in ordinary life. Not immediate then, but exceptional all the same.
Elbow – Grounds for Divorce
Elbow play Vicar Street on the 21st of April and Mandela Hall, Belfast on the 22nd.