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We’re told never to judge a book by its cover, but we can sometimes get a good idea of its content simply by reading the title. Such is the case for albums of music as well. Case in point, the last two LPs from Manchester alt-rock quartet Elbow. Their 2014 studio effort was titled ‘The Takeoff and Landing of Everything’, which very appropriately foreshadowed the general grandiosity and broadly outward-looking perspective of the songs it contained. By contrast, the title of Elbow’s new LP ‘Little Fictions’ implies a more introspective and self-conscious songwriting approach.
Opening track ‘Magnificent (She Says)’ served as a striking introduction to the album back in December of last year. Its mesmerising guitar riff and uptempo skipping rhythm in the verses are punctuated by a swelling string arrangement and forceful piano chords in the chorus. Garvey’s warm tenor is light and flexible throughout, growing almost tangibly in strength as he sings of his character’s (and his own) powerful optimism: “It’s all gonna be magnificent, she says”. But as it turns out, the magnificence of this grand gesture isn’t quite enough to sustain the album’s momentum.
Lyrically, the focus of ‘Little Fictions’ is somewhat myopic, as might be expected from a lyricist who was at the time of writing consumed by falling in love. Garvey’s recent foray into matrimony is a central theme of the album, and it has inspired some characteristically poignant lyrics, including the sensual chorus of ‘Gentle Storm’ (“gentle storm / rage my way / fall in love with me”) and the lovely small-scale vignette ‘Montparnasse’ (“don’t talk like we were stuck in a lift / why would I be missing you so violently?”).
Garvey does glance up past the end of his own nose on a couple of occasions. The murky ‘K2’ ostensibly refers to the political isolationism of Brexit (“hands up if you’ve never seen the sea / I’m from a land with an island status / makes us think that everyone hates us”). And mid-album track ‘All Disco’ takes a good-natured and self-depracating perspective on songwriting itself, with the gentle admonition, “what does it prove if you’d die for a tune / it’s really all disco”. Indeed, ’All Disco’ is this album’s true moment of brilliance, its bright, kaleidoscopic musical arrangement centered around Mark Potter’s electric guitar and backed by a lush full choir of voices.
After ‘All Disco’, the album takes a self-described “dip in tempo” with ‘Head for Supplies’. Mark Potter’s guitar melody is again pervasive, but the uneven gait of the vocal melody in the verses is awkward in a way that is unusual for the poetically-gifted Garvey. The energy picks up a bit with ‘Firebrand & Angel’, until the verbosity of the repeated lyrics in its extended coda weigh it down again.
The album’s press release describes eponymous track ‘Little Fictions’ as characteristic of the album as a whole, “an eight-minute piece that is epic without at any point feeling excessive”. To my ears, the track does seem overly indulgent, but perhaps necessarily so, as the band struggles to define a cohesive direction in the midst of its members’ diverging musical interests. (Since ‘The Takeoff and Landing of Everything’, Garvey has released a solo album, Mark Potter has undertaken a separate blues band project, and Craig Potter has worked on albums for Steve Mason and Stornoway.)
The album closes with ‘Kindling’, where Garvey’s evocative poetic imagery makes a triumphant final appearance in warmly emotional lyrics like “I can still taste the heat of the sun on her skin in my arms”. The song fades out rather abruptly to a spontaneous clip of the band self-critiquing their take, and it’s this final impression that seems to sum up ‘Little Fictions’ most appropriately.
Elbow’s sudden self-consciousness might be attributed in part to the absence of former drummer Richard Jupp, whose subtle dexterity and dynamic sensitivity have been acknowledged by the band as impossible to replace. The remaining members have responded with a circling-the-wagons-style collaborative approach to the songwriting on this album which has filled the gap admirably well. But it has also diluted the individual strengths in the group, namely Garvey’s gift for rich vocal melody, Mark Potter’s vibrant lead guitar, Craig Potter’s sonic diversity on keys and at the production helm, and the organic momentum of Pete Turner’s bass grooves.
None of this is to say that ‘Little Fictions’ is a bad album. I’m not sure Elbow are capable of making a bad album. But neither is this a tour de force in the manner of ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ or a pièce de résistance à la ‘The Takeoff and Landing of Everything’. I’m inclined to say that ‘Little Fictions’ is a transitional album, one that gives precious little indication where the veteran Mancunians might turn next.
Elbow’s seventh studio album ‘Little Fictions’ is out now via Polydor/Concord. TGTF’s extensive back catalogue of Elbow coverage is right back here.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 31st January 2017 at 6:00 pm
Incredibly, Manchester alt-rock veterans Elbow will be releasing their seventh studio album at the end of this week. ‘Little Fictions’ will be available starting Friday from Fiction Records. Just ahead of the release of the new LP to the wild, they’ve revealed a promo video for ‘Gentle Storm’, starring frontman Guy Garvey, whose friendly, avuncular face morphs into a variety of the band’s friends, including Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
This video was directed by Kevin Godley (of Godley and Creme fame), who’s been getting around lately. Godley also directed Tom Chaplin‘s claustrophobic promo for ‘Still Waiting’, which coincidentally also features a monochromatic color palette. Garvey has explained that the song reminded him of Godley and Creme’s ‘Cry’, so he decided to take a chance and ask Godley if he would be keen on directing their newest video. Luckily for Elbow, he agreed, and you can watch the fruit of their labour below. Check out this link to get to all of TGTF’s past coverage on the Mancunians.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 23rd December 2016 at 2:00 pm
Manchester’s alt-rock group Elbow will be releasing their seventh studio album ‘Little Fictions’, which is due for release in the early part of 2017. Described by guitarist Mark Potter as “the song people have been waiting for us to write”, ‘Magnificent (She Says)’ is the first single from ‘Little Fictions’; Carrie reviewed it for us back here. Now ‘Magnificent (She Says)’ has its own music video.
While I have to admit the band’s material hasn’t really spoke to me in recent years, the visuals in the promo are stunning and seem appropriate for this holiday. Filmed in the Asian countryside, the simple life of farmers and their families is celebrated. They don’t have a lot of money or possessions, but what they do have is love and friends in spades. And the hope that the sun will indeed rise the next morning. It’s a reminder that hope is real and we need to keep our faith in it, even during these tough times. Watch the video for ‘Magnificent (She Says)’ below. You can buy ‘Little Fictions’ for your very own on the 3rd of February 2017, when it will be available from Polydor/Concord. To read more on Elbow on TGTF, go here.
Happy holidays to all! We’ll see you back here in the new year.
Manchester alt-rock legends Elbow have returned to the music scene in spectacular fashion with an aptly-titled new single ‘Magnificent (She Says)’. The highly-anticipated new track is our first glimpse of Elbow’s forthcoming seventh studio album ‘Little Fictions’, which is due for release in the early part of 2017.
“This is where the bottle lands,” sings frontman Guy Garvey, laying the groundwork for a lyrical stream of consciousness “where a tiny pair of hands finds a sea-worn piece of glass and sets it as a sapphire in her mind.” Garvey’s freely associated lyrical phrases evoke the gauzy image of a young girl standing on a beach, while his bandmates re-create the swell and expanse of the ocean with a dazzling array of grand musical gestures.
As is often the case, Elbow’s orchestration is rich and vivid, with a bit of a retro feel. Warm, round guitar tones and bright keyboards contrast sharply with the angular drama of the full string section. The rhythm section is notably prominent, keeping a steady and urgent pulse under the breadth of sophisticated harmonies and shifting tone colors.
Talking about the rhythm section inevitably brings us round to the elephant in the room, namely the departure of Elbow’s drummer Richard Jupp earlier this year. Jupp’s deft touch and dynamic sensitivity on the kit arguably helped to define the band’s sound, and the remaining four members (Garvey, guitarist Mark Potter, keyboardist and producer Craig Potter and bass player Pete Turner) haven’t publicly spoken about how they’re dealing with his absence. But they seem to have stood up to the challenge, at least in the context of studio recording, and their customarily strong rhythmic component is certainly felt here.
‘Magnificent (She Says)’ is by turns cordially familiar and crisply refreshing, in classic Elbow fashion. Its lyrics are graceful and poetic, and perfectly paired with the elegant orchestral setting. Despite the rather unwieldy song title, the broad declaration in its eponymous refrain, “It’s all gonna be magnificent, she says / It’s all gonna be magnificent”, might well be seen as an optimistic portent to the remainder of ‘Little Fictions’.
‘Magnificent (She Says)’ is the first single from Elbow’s seventh LP ‘Little Fictions’. The album is due for release on the 3rd of February 2017 via Polydor/Concord. TGTF’s previous coverage of Elbow is right back here.
It feels weird to see a photo of Elbow as a quartet, doesn’t it? But Manchester’s hometown heroes are indeed now down to four in number, and they have announced a full arena tour for the beginning of next year, their first without the services of recently departed drummer Richard Jupp. The massive tour announcement comes in support of Elbow’s forthcoming seventh studio album, whose title is yet to be announced, but which is due for release via Polydor on the 3rd of February next year.
Tickets for the following shows will be available for general sale now. You can find TGTF’s amassed coverage of Elbow right back this way. Our coverage of frontman Guy Garvey’s recent solo project right through here.
Sunday 26th February 2017 – Dublin Olympia Theatre
Monday 27th February 2017 – Dublin Olympia Theatre
Wednesday 1st March 2017 – Birmingham Academy
Thursday 2nd March 2017 – Birmingham Academy
Saturday 4th March 2017 – London Hammersmith Apollo
Sunday 5th March 2017 – London Hammersmith Apollo
Monday 6th March 2017 – London Hammersmith Apollo
Wednesday 8th March 2017 – Bournemouth International Centre
Thursday 9th March 2017 – Plymouth Pavilions
Friday 10th March 2017 – Newport Centre
Sunday 12th March 2017 – Edinburgh Usher Hall
Monday 13th March 2017 – Edinburgh Usher Hall
Tuesday 14th March 2017 – Bridlington Spa
Wednesday 15th March 2017 – Doncaster Dome
Thursday 16th March 2017 – Leicester De Montfort Hall
Saturday 18th March 2017 – Manchester Apollo
Sunday 19th March 2017 – Manchester Apollo
Monday 20th March 2017 – Manchester Apollo
Last month, Manchester favourites Elbow pleased their fans with the release of a new EP called ‘Lost Worker Bee’. The release came as somewhat of a surprise, as the band members have been busy of late with a handful of festival appearances (including Kendal Calling 2015) as well as their own “various solo projects and collaborative endeavours”, which include frontman Guy Garvey’s record label venture Snug Platters and his new BBC 6 Music series ‘Music Box with Guy Garvey’. Of the ‘Lost Worker Bee’ EP, Garvey says “we just felt we really wanted to get something away to tide fans over until the next album. We’ve always loved the EP as a format and we’ve enjoyed making this one so much I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another before long.”
The four brand new songs on the EP are all set in Elbow’s hometown of Manchester. Garvey elaborates, “Manchester’s symbol has been the worker bee for hundreds of years and the lead track is about finding love far away from home.” Our own editor Mary featured the video for the eponymous and altogether charming ‘Lost Worker Bee’ just after the EP’s release.
The rhythmic complexity of ‘And It Snowed’ is a trademark of Elbow’s compositional style, expressed here in an asymmetrical meter that highlights the crystalline keyboard melody. The lyrics are a bit abstract, but the lines “you’ve done your leaving / livid in your splendour and alone / I kiss the stillness” seem to harken back to the lost romance theme of Elbow’s 2014 album ‘The Takeoff and Landing of Everything’, which dealt with Garvey’s split from his longtime partner.
In the captivating ‘Roll Call’, Garvey recycles a lyric, “streets alive with one man shows”, from ‘My Sad Captains’, a popular tune from ‘The Takeoff and Landing of Everything’. He prefaces it with a bit of a wink and nod, warning that “I’m not digging deep tonight”, but in truth, his lyrics are as rife with evocative imagery as ever, and the vocal harmonies supplied by his bandmates in this chorus are just as rich and pleasantly unexpected.
Similarly, the EP’s final track ‘Usually Bright’ feels like an extension of Elbow’s previous album, with simple poetic lines alluding to separation as “the saddest journey ever made”. The spare musical accompaniment, which perhaps coincidentally sounds a bit like an old-fashioned music box, allows Garvey’s poignantly simple lyrics to make their full nostalgic impact, marking a clear delineation between the past and the potential of the future.
Elbow’s ‘Lost Worker Bee’ EP is out now on Polydor. Elbow are scheduled to play the On Blackheath Festival in London on the 12th of September. Our full catalogue of previous Elbow coverage is right back this way.
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