So it turns out that writing interesting haikus is bloody hard. Plus, Elbow is clearly one of my favourite bands ever, so it seems only fair that I write something not limited to a 5, 7, 5 syllable pattern.
I think I always loved Elbow. Didn’t everybody? Have they not always just been there? Well, no. For the average music fan (y’know, Radio 1 listener, 20 or so albums in collection, a bit of U2, quite likes Scouting for Girls) Elbow’s career began with “One Day Like This”, a song so giddily soaring and epic that you want to sing it naked, through a megaphone, from the perch of a waterfall (this is normal, right?) In fact, there are umpteen incredible songs to Elbow’s name that came before “One Day Like This”. Elbow is like the girl you never noticed at school until she grew boobs, making you suddenly realise she was quite hot all along (except with boobs, ‘course) and you’re not quite sure why you hadn’t spotted her until now. The seldom seen kid, you could say. I speak for the men here, as Elbow are always touted as the drinking man’s band, the band to whom it’s okay to cry ’cause they’re just like you; one of the lads, good old Northern raised chaps with manly names, beards, pot bellies and working class backgrounds.
My trigger track was “The Stops”, heard on 6Music one day, making me take out the album from whence it came (Leaders of the Free World – see they were there all along, waiting for me) and start to appreciate the joy and genius of Guy Garvey et al.
Most Elbow reviews harp on about how unconventional a popstar Guy Garvey is; how unlikely, improbable, implausible a successful recording artist he appears. Heading towards his 40th year and slightly world weary for it, down to earth, erudite, personable, good banter; WOW, he’s like MY MATE! Or the trendy uncle you never had. For what it’s worth, he’s a pretty good DJ too, having debuted on XFM before migrating to BBC 6Music with his Finest Hour. The format is simple: a collection of damn good tracks, some known, others cherry-picked lesser heard tracks from Garvey’s own collection. Have a listen:
Elbow did a rather fine cover of Destiny’s Child – Independent Woman in the Radio1 live lounge way back when, which Joel Vietch (of Rathergood.com and famous for having created the ace Crusha ads) used as the bed for an hilarious animation that you can see here: Independent Woman – Elbow (cover)
As for their original music, well it’s all rather bloody good, isn’t it? Melancholy, uplifting, sombre, sturdy choruses, soulful melodies combined with lyrical aplomb, telling tales of heartbreak, homecomings, farewells, drunkenness and tender desperation. Leaders of the Free World is my album highlight, with its glorious title track taking a jibe at George Bush Jr. “Passing the gun from father to FECKLESS son / We’re climbing a landslide where only the good die young”. Then there’s “Station Approach”, quite simply the best song ever written about coming home and seeing your Mum.
Asleep in the Back highlights include the stunning 7-minuter “Newborn”, that starts with the hapless lyric “I’ll be the corpse in your bathtub”, and the sublime “Any Day Now”. I could go on (“Grace under Pressure”!, “Fugitive Motel”!, and wowzer, “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” – proven to make grown men sob) but I think I’ve made my point.
In less than a fortnight, Elbow will play Coachella festival in California, nestled deep in the bill, way below Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, Cage the Elephant and, er, Paul van Dyke, meaning their set won’t be anything like as long as it should be. Still, I can’t flippin’ wait.