Track four on Elbow’s new album, Little Fictions, is a song called All Disco – and whilst there is no way anyone could classify this record as a dance album it is undoubtedly the most rhythmic release the band have put together for some time. It clearly sounds like Elbow, but there is definitely a progression occurring here, a clear and successful attempt to bring something new into the formula.
Incessantly hypnotic rhythms underpin a number of tracks here, and whilst there are still some of their typical quiet, hymn-like ballads here, there is no sign of the band’s usual signature arm-waving, cigarette lighter swaying, crowd singalong anthem approach.
Collectively, these songs present a new side to the band to the world. The songs hold together beautifully as one piece of work, all of them rich in Guy Garvey’s emotive and evocative vocals and lyrical insight. It is cohesive, invitingly immersive and irresistibly affecting.
If anyone is hellbent on trying to find a weak spot here, it will probably be Gentle Storm, where the beat could be seen as a tad monotonous and too simplistic to demand the listener’s full attention. This criticism, though, may simply be due to the fact that this song is sandwiched between two gorgeous numbers that resonate much more strongly aesthetically and emotionally.
The opening track – Magnificent (She Says) – is, as asserted in the title, magnificent. Layered in orchestration that moves the heart, Garvey delivers a lyric that captures the optimism of youth that age and experience inevitably weathers away without us really noticing:
‘…this is where the bottle lands;
Where all the biggest questions meet
With little feet stood in the sand.
This is where the echoes swell to nothing on the tide,
And where a tiny pair of hands
Finds a sea-worn piece of glass
And sets it as a sapphire in her mind.
And there she stands
Throwing both her arms around the world –
The world that doesn’t even know
How much it needs this little girl.
It’s all gonna be magnificent, she says,
It’s all gonna be magnificent…’
As an opening to the album, this song sets the bar high, but after the momentary aberration of track two, this does not cause Elbow a problem as they repeatedly meet and, at times, exceed the standard they set for themselves from that point on.
Trust The Sun, suggests echoes of Eno & Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts to me, with its underpinning trancelike rhythm set in direct counterpoint to the vocal melody.
Both All Disco and Head For Supplies are sublime Garvey ballads, with the former subversively, and somewhat mischievously, asking all of us who have been moved by his past lyrical explorations of the human condition not to take his music too seriously: ‘What does it prove if you die for a tune? / It’s all disco – / Everything.’
Every track here has its highpoint – whether that be an unexpected note that fits just perfectly, a phrase that stops you cold to ponder the world from a previously unconsidered perspective, or a juxtaposition of sound and idea that stimulates your tear ducts or causes you to subconsciously clench a fist in righteous anger.
It’s an absolute pearler of a record.
Each listen so far has suggested a new favourite, but the title track, Little Fictions, is a constant. It is an epic, one of Elbow’s best ever tunes, full of lines that elevate the kitchen sink drama of everyday interaction into a mock-heroic poetic form, akin to the words of Eliot or Pound:
‘A muffled battle cry across the kitchen table;
A baffling contretemps that shakes the day unstable.
Confessions from the cab, a habit that I got from dad.
The flurry of departure in a cyclone of cologne
Would often devastate the gate and hedge,
And set our tiny teeth on edge.
I see it in me now, and pledge
To knock it on the head. That’s what I’ll do…’
Elbow have evolved, and where they were once just merely great, their latest metamorphosis elevates them to the next level of magnificence.
And that’s an irrefutable fact – and in no way a little fiction!
Little Fictions is out now on Polydor.