It must have been a review in either MOJO or Q. It must have been.
Because, otherwise, how would I have ever heard of Elbow?
Early 2004 I bought their second album, Cast of Thousands. And it was amazing. It was dark and moody Britpop, what Coldplay and Radiohead aspired to but could never quite achieve. “Fugitive Motel” and “Not a Job” were the most amazing songs I’d ever heard. There were sounds I couldn’t describe, and the vocals! Oh, my god, the vocals! Guy Garvey had a voice that sounded somehow ancient, yet mirthful despite the rawness and pain. And the gospel choir! There was a gospel choir! This music was transcendant.
Elbow sort of dropped off the radar for me. Their third album came and went, and I bought it and I listened to it, and I filed it, and I forgot about it.
Sadly, I forgot about Elbow.
Until just about a month ago.
I just really wanted to listen to some Elbow. Only, I couldn’t find any of their CDs. What had I done with them? Where had I packed them away? I had no idea. The only song of theirs I could find? The cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” they did for Q back in 2005, on the Lennon tribute album the magazine had put together in honor of his sixty-fifth birthday. (And yes, as taken as I am by Green Day’s cover of “Working Class Hero,” Elbow’s cover is in a completely different realm.)
Fortunately, iTunes came in handy. But rather than rebuy albums, because I knew the CDs would turn up, I bought the EPs they had for sale.
And it was then that I noticed.
Elbow had a new album coming out.
The Seldom Seen Kid.
I reacquainted myself with songs like “Fugitive Motel” and “Ribcage.” I found my old Elbow CDs.
How could I have ever forgotten about Elbow? How?
I bought The Seldom Seen Kid.
I unwrapped the cellophane. I removed the CD and held it like a totemic thing. I put it in the CD player. I hit play.
I didn’t like it.
I didn’t like it at all.
It’s the way it is with some bands. You find one of their albums, and it’s the first one you listen to, and it’s how you always imagine they’ll be. So, when you buy one of their new albums, it’s both the same because it’s the same band, but it’s different because all the songs are new and unfamiliar, and thus it’s easy not to like it.
But the second time I played The Seldom Seen Kid…
Is it possible? Is this somehow more transcendant than Cast of Thousands? Can you even quantify transcendence?
There are songs, like “One Day Like This,” that are anthemic. “Weather to Fly” is charming.
And then there’s a song, “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver,” that may be the most perfect song I have ever heard. The lyrics, like most of Elbow’s lyrics, are inscrutably obscure. I have no idea what the song is about — Is it about the fleetingness of love? Is it about the quiet desperation of a poetic soul trapped in an unpoetic occupation, where relationships are imagined instead of incarnated? Is it about anything at all?
Whatever the song is about, the sound. It’s the sound of the song that captures your soul. “The Loneliness” goes through three distinct movements, and there’s a mundanity to the first movement that is a bit surprising. The second movement connects with an instrumental bridge, and then in the third movement, when the instrumentation builds at the 3:45 mark and reaches a crescendo, there’s a moment of pure emotional catharsis that will leave no listener unmoved.
That’s what I love about Elbow. The lyrics are impossible to parse, but the musicianship is so solid and the vocals so raw that their songs connect with the listener’s soul.
The Seldom Seen Kid is an amazing album. If you’ve never heard Elbow, if you’ve never heard of Elbow, this is a great place to start. It will grow on you, and it will never let go.
Elbow. One of my favorite bands. And how could I have ever forgotten them?