I first fell in love with Guy Garvey after being introduced to The Seldom Seen Kid by a dear friend in high school. I had joined his band as a secondary (and let’s face it, pretty shit) guitarist, and we practised in a decked out shed in the drummer’s garden. I loved it. “Let’s cover ‘The Fix’”, the bassist suggested. Obviously I’d heard ‘One Day Like This’, but nothing could prepare me for the musical awakening I proceeded to encounter that evening, and from then on, in my mind I decided Guy Garvey and co can do no wrong. I bought Asleep in the Back and listened to it falling asleep in the back of a car during a long journey, and I revelled in the beauty of Build a Rocket Boys! upon release too. So I jumped (so very high, in fact, over an Olympic high jump pole) at the chance to review their latest album, Little Fictions. And it doesn’t disappoint. If you’re an avid reader of music journalism like myself, you’ll know that most of the big magazines are saying this record is no different from their others: if you were bored of them before (sorry, but you’re wrong), this won’t change your opinion. If their previous six albums make your heart soar, this will continue to do so.
If their previous six albums make your heart soar, this will continue to do so.
Elbow have a fool-proof formula of textures that works for them. You’d struggle to find a band that can dip their toe in a puddle of melancholia, then immerse themselves in oceans of epic magnificence as easily as this one does, which is exactly what we get on the uplifting ‘Magnificence (She Says)’, written about a little girl playing on a beach, “with little feet stood in the sand” and a “tiny pair of hands”. The track works a drum beat that is always one step ahead of the listener (despite the first album released since the departure of former drummer Richard Jupp to pursue new projects), with snippets of a bass riff leaving you wanting more without feeling hard done by, and of course Garvey’s huge voice that could fill a museum, yet still be amazingly gentle.
‘Trust the Sun’ is a particular favourite for me, using quiet chords and a raspy tapping snare that you might have expected on Asleep in the Back, contrasting sorrowful verses with aspirational, full piano phrases that join the party for the subtle chorus. “You’re my reason for breathing”, Garvey sings, voicing my opinions towards him impeccably. When I grow up, I want to be Guy Garvey.
‘K2’’s vocal delay emphasises the band’s opinions on Brexit: “I’m from a land with an island status / makes us think that everyone hates us / maybe they do”. I’m not about to get all political; I’m a music editor, not a politics correspondent. But their engagement with the distresses of the world at the moment is done so with a positive sheen, a sparkling song that suggests we should all just get along. Silly Brexit. Let’s all listen to this album and reassess the important things in our lives.
So different…so lovable
The title track surprises me, as Elbow tend to do. I think the song is going in one direction, with a sustained little piano section, then the band turn my whole map upside down and rip it apart with what NME call “afrobeat splashes”, a cowbell, and what I’m pretty sure is the sound of a reversed cymbal. Lyrically, it doesn’t stop growing. Most bands fit words into neat little stanzas, but Elbow’s long enjambment, an over-spill of words reminiscent of ‘Starlings’ is an element of theirs I find most fascinating. It makes them so different, and for me, so lovable.
Elbow will forever remind me of my treasured teenage years playing loud music with my friends; the shed windows and door open wide letting ‘The Fix’ out to the world of a small Cardiff suburb on a midsummer’s eve. And I’m so happy that Little Fictions can be added to their discography. It’s as perfect as Elbow get.