Elbow, unlike their older brother Coldplay, has seemed eternally underrated. As Coldplay received all the acclaim that Travis deserved, Elbow basked in the leftover desire for a band that kind of sounded like Radiohead, but mostly sounded British. Their best record, 2003’s Cast of Thousands was released 13 years into their recording career, and 14 years ago, was still a full five years before their biggest moment, 2008’s Mercury Prize Winning, In Rainbows beating Seldom Seen Kid. It wasn’t their best record, but it didn’t need to be. It was the sound of a band that finally had overcome their narrative, being another amazing band from Britain that was kind of ignored in America.
I saw them on that Seldom Seen Kid tour twice, once opening for Coldplay, ironically, and they had the depth of a veteran band but the energy of a new signing. That season was a high water mark for a band that had put in the time while the general consensus was, “Oh yeah, Elbow, I like them”. Since then it has felt like diminishing returns. 2011’s Build A Rocket Boys had their best song in a decade in “Open Arms” but little else that couldn’t be found stronger on a previous release. Then came 2014’s The Take Off… and it was another solid and ultimately unremarkable release. They had fallen into a groove, they were Britain’s Wilco, the band for people who used to like bands.
They were still solid, but the risk was gone. Like a guy who sells his motorcycle the day his son is born, Elbow had lost their edge. Which is saying something as the band are named after the body’s most prominent edge. Little Fictions isn’t where they got their edge back necessarily, that’s too neat of a narrative. It is though, the best record they have released in a decade. The record kicks off with “Magnificent”, pairing Guy Garvey’s soaring vocals with strings that lay down strength and symphonies, and the song just keeps floating with genuine positivity. “Gentle Storm” repeats the rhythmic power of “Fallen Angels” and the beautiful wishing of “Fugitive Motel” from Elbow’s second record, and yokes them together.
I’m not sure what it is about Guy Garvey’s voice, but there isn’t a lot of singers who could pull off “Fall in love with me (4x), every day.” But, there is something about that voice, it never hits the ground. It’s not just his voice though, it’s the simplicity of the lyrics that raises this above the average indie rock release. “What does it prove if you die for tune,” Guy croons over a simple repetitive guitar and bass number. The track breaks though, and he drops his best lyric in several records “Its really all disco.” Disco, the ultimate has-been genre, the one hundreds of thousands of people burned, the one punks hated and rebelled against. The genre that singlehandedly inspired the 80’s with its negative stereotype.
Ultimately, its all disco. Its all forgotten, it all comes to an end. Call it morbid, call it a reflection of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, but its an anthem for 2017. “Let your obsession go, its really all disco.” Not that we needed another Radiohead reference, but the opening of the track is too weirdly close to last year’s “Decks Dark” from A Moon Shaped Pool to not mention it. Is it a crime to sound like Radiohead? Absolutely not, but in 2017, it is safe to say they are no longer the premier band to pull from. But its all disco.
The record continues with “Firebrand and Angel” which works up quite a hypnotic groove, and repeats on top of itself with choir reverberations, it must have been a complicated track to mix, but it was done masterfully. “K2” doesn’t feel stressful like climbing a mountain, more soft and swift like riding a cable car to the tippy top, effortlessly making progress. The title track rings out with pianos that sound like the microphone is bouncing on the strings as they are hammered. It works on the levels that the best Elbow songs work, it promises epic, and delivers.
Little Fictions is another solid entry in the Elbow catalog that is destined to be mostly ignored. The band peaked almost a decade ago, but still churns out surprisingly deep, solid records every couple of years. If you are still reading this, you probably are a fan and maybe even wish they were more on top of the world like Coldplay or something, know that I agree and its really all disco anyway. B