Undoubtedly the biggest release of this week has to come in the form of Little Fictions, the seventh studio album from 2008 Mercury Prize winners Elbow. It was the album for which they won the prize, The Seldom Seen Kid, that really propelled the band into the spotlight. It went multi-platinum and gave them their highest charting single, One Day Like This, which feels like it has been ever-present since – a sort of musical perennial weed, but with violins.
Since 2008, the band have gone from strength to strength. Two critically acclaimed albums, world tours, a starring role at the Olympics closing ceremony and a widely lauded collaboration with Manchester's Hallé Orchestra. Still, their prior success looms large. I'm not saying that they have quite reached the unenviable position of Chesney Hawkes (“play The One And Only”) however it feels as though the success of one album or even one song is plaguing their future endeavours, however impressive they may be. Could this be the album that shakes off the shackles of the past?
For starters, to say these are 'little' fictions almost feels like we are doing them a disservice for they are presented in the most grandiose of fashions. The Hallé and their associated choir are present once more and their involvement gives the songs an elixir-like boost. The album is bookended with hope. Lead single Magnificent (She Says) views the world as a child. It is a majestic orchestral tribute to the optimism of new life, an ode to curiosity and innocence. Final track Kindling speaks of lost hope, of an existence tarnished by the grime of life and how something as small as a phone call can relight that fire and reinvigorate the human spirit.
Fundamentally though, this is an album about love. Not the boy band 'I wanted you then I got you then I lost you then I got you back' kind of love. Love as a higher concept. Elbow clearly have a bottled-up belief that love has the power to conquer all and they paint it in a celestial glow. Head For Supplies discusses the beginning of a new relationship – how all that came before is discarded and the lovers can lock themselves away and fashion a new world together. This is echoed in Gentle Storm when lead singer Guy Garvey references 'spit-shone restless hearts' that must now 'share one fate'. K2 was the most powerful for me as Garvey says he has seen love 'make a heaven of backstreet, bedsit and bomb site living room'. As other-worldly as they may come across sometimes, there is something so arrestingly down to Earth about Elbow and hearing such opulent declarations made in Garvey's thick, gruff Bury accent only serves to gilt their edges.
The album's artwork shows a figure making their way across an empty, rocky landscape and this is an apt depiction of the sensation of listening to Little Fictions. It is adroit at making you feel alone in the universe, distanced from events yet viewing them with immaculate clarity. Always more than a sum of its parts, it expertly creates a sense of perspective. I would venture that Elbow could soundtrack the Big Bang (or the six days in Genesis depending on your belief system) without it feeling at all overwhelming. They construct a pedestal from ordinary tales, ordinary people and ordinary lives that propels us to the stars.
The orchestral aspects are incredible. Lyrically, it is inspired – stream of consciousness without pretention is very hard to do but Elbow still manage to feel relatable. Garvey's voice is like that of a siren, dragging you into his world and refusing to let go. Most encouragingly, at no point in the album did I feel the need to revisit One Day Like This. Although the general aura is similar, the band have clearly moved on and perhaps it is time we did too. I think it is safe to say we have our first real contender for 2017's Album Of The Year.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Week
“Let's be a hundred and five you and I//And sing out a tune of regrets to the moon//Perverted old timers//I'll feed you one liners”
Bury boys with a
Little help from the Hallé
Reach for the cosmos
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