Thursday, December 29, 2005

Albums Of The Year: Number 3

You have to feel for Guy Garvey. He spends months pulling together an album of rare sympathetic craftsmanship, a grandiose scope that pulls them far clear of the uber-lazy Coldplay comparisons - mid-tempo, occasionally anthemic, English, that'll do - and gutwrenchingly personal songwriting, to misquote one of Elbow's old songs pulling his heartstrings apart and letting the sun out, that he'd have every right to shout from the rooftops about. Then he goes out to do the promotional rounds, whereupon every interviewer spends most of the allotted time going "so, it's about Edith Bowman, isn't it?" He must wonder why he bothered. What it also means is we'll have to do the shouting for him, then.

Elbow have always been a band against the world, from songs which build and build until erupting with a euphoric chorus of "we still believe in love, so fuck you" to the very fact that they emerged at the turn of the century with Mellotrons, seven minute singles and a frontman who sounded like Peter Gabriel encased in gravel yet didn't go the Spiritualized route or be dismissed as prog. On Leaders Of The Free World Garvey's mind turns to disproving Thom Yorke's theory that directly personal songs are uninvolving for everyone else. The first track, Station Approach, is about returning home after touring, an elephant's graveyard of a song subject, yet it's an immensely touching portrayal of needing to be around the people and places you trust, a love letter to Bury in many ways, and sets the scene for an album full of passion expressed both as what encases a state of sorrow and a kind of hopeful longing, a state that says its owner is happy, thanks, it's just everyone else who sees him as down (cf My Very Best). It's the kind of light touch with a heavy soul that makes Forget Myself an anthem for the pub lads that speaks to their soul and the title track a Bush/Blair political statement that hardly breaks ideological ground but shakes its head all the more forcefully at the barminess of it all. At its peaks it encapsulates loss and loneliness, romance both as fear and memory. Where Cast Of Thousands could overall only bring itself to flirt with these big themes and orchestration and was ultimately disappointing itself as much as the listener, this one picks up the baton and goes for it, bringing with it Garvey's now hardly matched knack for picking out the best cliche-free imagery and a band, for this is still a tight, inventive band, at ease with itself but willing to play with their own preset boundaries. Oh, and if we must see it as a signpost to the album, please note that Bowman made the album her record of the week on Radio 1. Perhaps she recognised the universality of the personal approach.

LISTEN IN: Mexican Standoff
EXTRA FEATURE: BBC Manchester house an audio interview and acoustic versions

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