Review Summary: Garvey possesses a substantial amount of warmth within his voice; surviving even the most frozen of atmospheres created by the modest musicianship and instrumentation of his fellow band members.
I have a friend. I remember this same friend mentioned a band called Elbow. I had vaguely heard of them but had never dedicated time into listening to them. This friend spoke of them relatively highly and even went far enough to reward them the title of 'The Northern Radiohead'. As I was still in that 'Radiohead-will-always-be-the-greatest-band-ever' stage at the time, I saw this distinctive and peculiar description as an absolute necessity to listen to them. I started with this album.
What impressed me firstly was the album cover. The white Rubix-Cube-looking object in the middle always provided some intrigue; because if a Rubix Cube were plain and therefore colourless, its purpose would defeated. After this meaningless trail of thought, I proceeded with the music itself. After five arguably decent tracks, I was marginally impressed, bearing in mind that this was my first listen, and this was mostly through being familiar with the guitar break on 'Grounds for Divorce' which seemed to serve as the prime soundtrack to a trailer for every acclaimed British television drama. Putting that oxymoron aside, I queried my perception of the band with this friend, being ultimately sceptical from the start due to the Radiohead comparison. My friend, let's call him Darren, was reasonable, however, and told me to persevere. He then elaborated into declaring 'The Seldom Seen Kid' as a grower. I eventually came back to it... and what a difference.
The entirety of 'Starlings' is exactly what an opening track should sound like; the jittery electronic sounds and pleasant non-lexical mumbling pave a lovely pathway to a loud and triumphant horn section... with the emphasis on loud. After meaningful-sounding lyrics, such as “You pulled apart my theory with a weary and disinterested sigh”, this eventually progresses into a brief radiant interlude followed by the horn section again. Needless to say, this blew me away and I could not believe that I could let this slip the first time I listened to it.
The upbeat ‘Bones of You’ is an early and pleasant entry along with the splendid mid-track ‘Weather to Fly’ which is excellent for when you simply want to imagine yourself in the clouds. Getting back down to earth, the band proves that they can still rock out with the surprisingly immediate ‘Grounds For Divorce’ which is the blues-rock anthem for the end of the decade. My only criticism would be that it is perhaps too unlike the other tracks with its upbeat and driving nature.
The tingling ‘Mirrorball’ boasts an alluring and resplendent string section in the chorus, this song would have definitely managed to belong on Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ and fit that particular aesthetic, despite not sounding like that said band at all. Entertaining tracks such as ‘An Audience with the Pope’ and ‘The Fix’ are enjoyable and catchy but ultimately, less rewarding than others. Upon initial listening some Alternative Rock fans will probably argue that there is a disproportionate number of upbeat tracks to slow tracks, but after slower tracks such as ‘Some Riot’ and especially ‘The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver’, which pinpoints exactly how strong Garvey’s pipes are, begin to bloom and further develop with repeated listens, it is discovered that there is plenty to reap in Elbow’s field of benefits.
The gem of the album, however, has to be the monumental penultimate track ‘One Day Like This’ which I recently heard over the soundtrack to footage of preparation for the London 2012 Olympic Games, which I am informed that Elbow are contributing a song towards. The Disney-esque strings at the beginning set an optimistic and majestic atmosphere which remains intact in quality through the lengthy-but-not-overstaying crescendo “throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year would see me right’ which would have been the perfect closer to a mighty album, which is seldom seen these days.
After having faith in my friend’s words that this is a grower, this was unquestionably accurate. Although definitely a grower, I found this album to be less of a flower. For some reason, the tracklisting always felt a little askew personally. Some first few tracks were too strong or upbeat, which made listening to the album in its entirety slightly draining with a multitude of lighter ballads together. The aforementioned penultimate track is the ultimate salvation, however, and arguably seems more epic due to previous tracks being of a lighter persuasion. If this closed the album, perhaps this review would be slightly higher, as the final track ‘Friend of Ours’ never had the same buzz as the others in my opinion.
Getting back to the album cover, I found the autumn-brown colours on the front to be synonymous with the music, which helped me find a solid connection between the two. This album is highly recommended for fans of the lighter side of alternative rock, or soft rock with an edge but I would not go as far to call them a ‘Northern Radiohead’. I am not in love with Elbow, but there is clear and undeniable potential for them to continue strong and unique with their burly brew of brilliance, which can only be fully described as “proper luuuush” with a mandatory Manchester accent.