Elbow  – Little Fictions (Polydor)

Elbow – Little Fictions (Polydor)

It’s 2008, Elbow were on the crest of a popular wave of good will built upon their most successful album (The Seldom Seen Kid), that married Garvey’s world-weary, crumpled yet occasionally lovelorn vocals to sweeping strings, enveloping rhythms and communal choruses. It was topped off with a Mercury award and a showstopping performance of ‘One Day Like This‘ at Glastonbury; they were in their own way the 00s version of Pulp – an unlikely success story. Like them, It’d been a long time coming for this middle-aged Bury five-piece who had earned attention the hard way with a series of critically well-received records through the late 90s and early 00s, that were ultimately ignored by the mainstream. So much so that by 2005’s Leaders of the Free World they had been dropped by their label. The turnaround then was quite remarkable.

Fast forward to 2017 and Elbow are again at a crossroads having attempted to rehash the successful ‘Seldom Seen…’ formula to lesser and more bland results on a previous duo of average follow-up albums, Build a Rocket Boys and 2014’s The Taking off and Landing of Everything informed by Garvey’s divorce. These largely disappointing releases one suspects were formed in the shadows of the pressure to repeat the feat. Seventh album Little Fictions then, finds Guy and the lads coming to terms with the loss of long-time drummer Richard Jupp after 25 years. Recorded between Scotland and Manchester, at a time of uncertainty, is it still the same Elbow that fans love and detractors love to hate? Well kind of. Last year Garvey described it as both ‘sparse‘ and ‘chunky and beat driven‘ two contradictory statements that are somehow true.

Elbow still sound like the Doves on downers, but this time complimented by, at points, a productional sparsity that recalls the atmosphere of Talk Talk‘s Spirit of Eden, only the songs aren’t as good. Take the twitching elegance of ‘Trust The Sun‘, which skitters along upon a bed of beats, luxuriating in melancholia and disenchantment, (‘an eye for an eye for an eye‘) Garvey sings, rising from bed each day with the barely concealed rage of a man clinging to every fragment of hope he can muster. While ‘Gentle Storm”s pattering beats and keyboard dips are redolent of the enveloping opener ‘Ribcage‘ from Cast of Thousands, it sees the frontman basking in the beams of a new love (he married his girlfriend last year) – a repeated plea to ‘Fall in love with me/every day’ is as affecting as it is romantic. It’s at the heart of what makes Little Fictions tick.

Perhaps the most trademark Elbow moment comes with the soaring opener Magnificent(She Says) that sees Garvey open his eyes to embrace the wonder of his young child’s fledgling life “Every morning I was woken up by a kid playing in the sand and it was the loveliest thing to see” he says, of life with his baby. With its pattering drums, and woven with cinematic strings, it’s as close to the kind of lump in the throat inducing ‘The Bones of You‘ or ‘One Day Like this‘ anthemicness as Little Fictions gets. While ‘All Disco‘ displays a poignancy of a music fans palette (‘what does it prove if you die for a tune? Is it really all Disco‘). Final track ‘Kindling‘ is lit by a cymbal shuffle that sounds like a better produced Velvet Underground‘s ‘Sunday Morning‘. Garvey’s vocal is heartfelt and bathes in a lovelorn afterglow, but his words are a little trite in part.

Elsewhere there are prescient moments. The epic eight-minute title track’s twitching beats are sewn with strings, swelling impressively and galloping to a crescendo. It could be a song about post truth and fake news but it turns out the subject matter is more familiar: the personal, every day and homespun. Childhood memories mingle with the lies we tell ourselves to survive. These intensely personal and poetic fragments of biography are interspersed with witty asides (‘our fat boy fishing chair‘). ‘K2‘ is more obviously political, as Garvey’s post-Brexit incredulity tumbles forth over a subtle instrumentation ‘I’m from a land with an island status/makes us think everyone hates us‘ he sings with a sigh as the disappointment of being British and represented by leaders who are at the tiller guiding us toward some rather large icebergs.

It’s fair to say if you love Elbow you will still fall under the spell of Little Fictions. If you don’t, you will still decide to turn off around two minutes into most cuts, continuing to write them off once again as dull plodders, as these songs largely amble and shuffle along, threaded with Garvey’s earnestness rather than always leaving an indelible mark. So, whilst there are moments of heart grasping beauty here, which recall what Elbow did best on their first three albums, these are still surrounded by some forgettable trudges.

If you’ve been open to Elbow’s charms in the past, you will once again marinate and be lifted by this set of earnest anthems, which somehow sound less conscious of repeating the commercial success of The Seldom Seen Kid – a fate that befell their last two long players. Of course it’s not visceral or futuristic, Elbow’s music is sometimes very heartwarming, capturing little precious moments and turning them into anthems, like enjoying a piece of warm Hovis bread with butter, hymns for the broken everyman, and who doesn’t want to feel like they are being reflected in song? For while these suites of luxuriant strings, vocals and twinkling percussion are not going to change anyone’s lives, they might just save a few in the process. So a return to form? A little.

Little Fictions is out now on Polydor.

29 thoughts on “Elbow – Little Fictions (Polydor)

  1. Rubbish. If a greatest hits was released, 5/6 tracks from TTALOE would be on it. This so called critic is a fraud. The only honesty you’ll find on this page.

    1. Chill out, will ya? It’s one person’s opinion. His honest opinion. What do you want him to do, lie?
      Seriously, does it matter? Getting angry about this is like getting angry with ME for not liking liquorice.

    2. “If a greatest hits was released, 5/6 tracks from TTALOE would be on it” Just how many songs do you think usually go on greatest hits albums? 5/6 from that album makes it sound you think you they’re going to have a 40 track greatest hits or something. That seems pretty generous as Elbow only have about seven decent songs, all of which came out between 2000 and 2005.

      1. Even that is a bit generous Jonathan. Asleep in the Back is the only Elbow album anyone needs to bother with, and maybe 50% of Cast of Thousands

    3. Awful review, as for the comments by Wright, what he knows about music you could write on a postage stamp. Stick to Bjork you pretentious twonk

      1. Hey Terry, loved your work on the Word by the way! Can you explain why it’s awful? Call me old-fashioned, but I like a bit of constructive criticism you see, even after years of writing about music. I thought I was being quite balanced considering some people hate Elbow. Regards your so-called Critic.

        1. For A start you can’t even get the song titles correct. Its Magnificent (she says), not Wonderful, thats a schoolboy error for any reviewer.

          You also seem under the impression that most of Elbow’s best work is behind them, when actually the first 2 records are by far the most ordinary, it was the 3rd album that defined the sound they have now, the first 2 records though decent are just imitations of a very poor Talk Talk record (Laughing Stock) The reason Elbow are so successful is that they tap into the everyman vibe whilst remaining accessible and cool to the music fan, only the pretentious would switch off a band just because they have a massive hit like “one day like this”, and this site is full of pretention and pretentious reviewers. The fact most people who hadnt heard of Elbow up until that point illustrates that point, that song has soundtracked countless weddings and indeed funerals, why? because its beautiful, something you and Wright seem to miss out on completely.

          All I can say to you is I hope you arent paying these people to write for you, or indeed paying yourself. I may re-tweet this review into the Elbow community so keep your eyes peeled for traffic.

          Yours MAGNIFICENTLY, Terry

          1. Yes that was pointed out to me before on twitter. Honest mistake, a stupid adjective mix up for some reason my brain got it wrong, it’s been corrected now.

            I didn’t say Elbow’s best days were behind them, quite the contrary if you read what I wrote I talked about this being somewhat of a return to form in parts(particularly ‘Magnificent(She Says)’, the title track and ‘Gentle Storm’). My reference to Talk Talk was as a comparison to the productional sparsity of this record.

            Thirdly I actually said that ‘One Day Like This’ and ‘The Bones of you’ are two of their best anthems, and my favourite album is ‘Cast of Thousands’ which was prior to their commercial success. And what else is a ‘hymn for the everyman’ but the songwriting ability that you described? My point about switching off wasn’t about dismissing them on success but that Little Fictions won’t change anyone’s mind, if you don’t like Elbow you probably won’t be changed by this album, if you do you will enjoy it. Which I thought was pretty fair, I think you may be confusing the review and some of the comments.

            We aren’t pretentious and I/we don’t make money writing about music, does that make our opinions less valid?

            Yours honestly so-called Bill

          2. For some reason Mr Cummings you seem to have left the reply option off your post, have I hit a nerve

            To be fair to you your review is just one mans opinion, all be it wrong, but you seem misguided even in reply, It was me who said Elbow’s first 2 records are average, not you

            As for Wright, my advice to you is its a very amateurish policy to allow your reviewers to comment on readers replies especially when they are as condescending as his. This would put a lot of people off visiting your site again. Ive sacked people for less

            Yours lustingly after Danni Behr, Terry

          3. Call us pretentious if you must, Terry, but the truth is that Elbow are not a patch on Doctor Kanzing And His Magic Sponge.

          4. “that song has soundtracked countless weddings and indeed funerals” – is that a badge of quality these days then? Like “Simply the Best” by Tina Turner, or “Everything I Do” by Bryan Adams? And I say this as someone who quite likes Elbow.

          5. “a very poor Talk Talk record (Laughing Stock) ”

            SERIOUSLY?! That is one of the greatest albums ever made! I’d say Elbow’s first album is more inspired by Spirit of Eden than Laughing Stock though.

  2. Fair enough, like all Elbow albums it has its moments. I just don’t rate it as highly as you do, or as their first three albums.It’s purely subjective thing, it just felt like in part a retread of some of ‘Seldom seen’s ground to me. Thank you.

    Bill the so-called critic

  3. Good review Bill. I’m an Elbow fan and found this well balanced. The Talk Talk review is spot on (Garvey even said as much in interviews around this albums release). The fact you’ve said it’s a return to form yet people STILL get mad is so odd

  4. I’m amazed that people still simply do not understand what music writing is about – like music itself it’s SUBJECTIVE. It’s one person’s opinion, and if your faith in your favourite band is so easily rattled by some bloke you’ve never met giving them a poor, or in this case middling, review, maybe your favourite band aren’t that great after all.

    GIITTV is one of the few music sites that regularly publishes negative reviews – I know, I write most of them – and long may that continue.

  5. Music is a wonderful thing. If we all liked the same thing we’d all be Adele fans and that, would never do.

    By the way, the clock on the website is an hour fast.

    Oh, and my wife’s claim to fame is that she turned down weed from Elbow when they were just an ickle band from Bury.

    1. Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure
      The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
      And there’s a mighty judgement coming, but I may be wrong
      You see, you hear these funny voices
      In the Tower of Song

  6. Very fair review from Bill, and this is coming from someone who loves quite a few of their post 2005 tracks. One Day Like This is a very special song for me and i loved it before it soundtracked a particularly memorable moment of my life. So i have to disagree wholeheartedly with Jonathan’s opinion that “they only have 7 decent songs and all were released before 2005”, Grounds For Divorce, Neat Little Rows, Fly Boy Blue/Lunette and the magnificent My Sad Captains are all classics. What I don’t agree with is the opinion that a writer is any less valid as a critic because they don’t think this album is 100% amazing.

  7. Terry so called Christian you are so uninformed it’s laughable..If you truly feel that Elbow’s first two albums are ‘ordinary’ , you clearly have cloth ears..They are both totally stunning, tonally, musically and lyrically. ..and as for Laughing Stock being ‘very poor’, you clearly prefer your music devoid of substance, ideas and creative excellence. ..
    I’d stick to Coldplay if I were you…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

God Is In The TV