A few years off their third decade together, the Bury-born boys have always done things at their their own pace. Formed in 1990 when they had just left school, their full-length debut would arrive just over a decade later with 2001’s ‘Asleep In The Back’. Critical acclaim would follow their first three albums but their big commercial breakthrough would not come until after their fourth LP, 2008’s Mercury Prize winning ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’. Since then, Elbow and their lead vocalist Guy Garvey have become one of Britain’s most instantly recognisable and best loved bands.
Bruised romance has been a consistent theme of Garvey‘s candid and confessional lyrics over the years, but his voice strikes a more optimistic tone when it comes to matters of the heart on ‘Little Fictions’ thanks to his recent marriage to actress Rachael Stirling. However, break-up still informs the direction of their seventh LP given the departure of longtime drummer Richard Jupp. The remaining four members nearly cancelled their winter writing session but instead they brought in Alex Reeves, who played in Garvey‘s 2015 solo debut ‘Courting the Squall’, and headed off to Gargunnock House in snowy Scotland.
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The change of drummer and Garvey‘s marriage seem to have reinvigorated the band. Not only are the lyrics more upbeat than ever, but there’s a more percussion-driven approach which results in the most minimalist album Elbow have written thus far. Sparse arrangements are not what were expected though after the two lead singles, the orchestral-pop of album opener ‘Magnificent (She Says)’ and the chiming guitars of the Doves-like ‘All Disco’. Both tracks are quintessential Elbow, but it’s on the rest of ‘Little Fictions’ where the new back-to-basics sound is revealed. Overall the outcome is generally positive, although it’s not without its flaws.
Their experiment with minimalism is perhaps best heard on the album’s second track ‘Gentle Storm’, which besides the occasional piano chord is primarily driven by Reeves‘ superb disco-like percussion and Garvey‘s romantic vocals where he tells his new wife that “the clock reset when I met you“. Similar declarations of love can be heard on the superb Talk Talk-inspired ‘Trust the Sun’, but Garvey also finds room to speak upon our increasingly divided society in light of Brexit, Trump and all that potentially comes after it, quoting the law of retaliation (“an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye…“) and commenting on how out of touch the media is with everyday reality.
The mildly motorik ‘K2’ contains the most politically-focused lyrics on the album. Written either side of the Brexit vote, Garvey speak-sings about how “they gambled the farm on a headline” and how “they’re never gonna make an arrest on Fleet Street“, before warning us to “consider the path… it’s full of blood, snot and teeth and the glory of no one“. Despite the new, stripped-back approach working quite successfully for the most part, there are some tracks on the second half of the album, most notably ‘Montparnasse’ and the closer ‘Kindling’, which could be considered as being among some of the weakest Elbow have written in the past decade and thus dilutes from the overall quality of the LP.
‘Little Fictions’ is available now via Polydor