Hip-hop; shout-y American punk band Knuckle Puck; Chris Brown’s album Wrist; all the best music-related things are named after bodily joints. Elbow are no exception. Their latest record Little Fictions, whilst far from a Bowie-esque reinvention, is a likeable listen which will appeal not only to the core fan-base, but also to anyone who hears Magnificent on the radio in, say, a doctors’ waiting room and thinks, “well that was quite nice”.
I am little biased, because the first time I saw Elbow I was drunkenly, grumpily scowling in the rain at Latitude when suddenly Guy Garvey burst into the chorus of One Day Like This just as the sun broke through the clouds for the first time that weekend. Moments like this foreclose on any future possibility of critically evaluating a band; no matter how similar their albums all sound, no matter how safe and ordinary their songwriting style, you will always love them. Despite this, I am fully aware that Elbow would still be the second most exciting band of the night if they opened for Katie Melua.
Elbow are part of that clutch of millennial bands whose trick was simple – they combined emotive, stadium-singalong melodies, and piano as a lead instrument. Coldplay, Keane, and Elbow all did this, and every music reviewer from NME to the Guardian lauded these groups as the creators of an entirely new sound. Nearly 20 years later, music journalism has thoroughly registered the pedestrian courses that these bands have taken, and such a critique could easily be extended to Little Fictions. But there are a few interesting things about this record which may give some of the haters pause before they turn off the radio.
Little Fictions is 10 songs of quirky percussion loops beneath a brooding piano melodies and grand, lustrous choruses. Within this standard framework, Guy Garvey’s lyrics are occasionally very compelling. Lancashire slang such as “blues-and-twos” and “old-timers” sits alongside evocative poetic images – “let’s be a hundred and five, you and I, and sing out a tune of regrets to the moon”. The language flows effortlessly from talking about ‘mum’s perfume’ to post-war geopolitics: “I’m from a land with an island status, makes us think everyone hates us”.
As you might expect, the melodies are ubiquitously addictive: if you are reading this as someone who acridly despises Elbow, go and listen to the opening of All Disco and then tell me again that “they’re boring” or “it all sounds the same.” A great melody is a great melody, and Little Fictions provides plenty of them. And if that semantically null tautology isn’t enough to convince you, then listen as Garvey sings “there’s lemon and thyme in the alley” in his soaring high-register over the swelling keyboards and shimmering guitar. It doesn’t even mean anything, but it is one of those musical moments that is sure to melt that ice cold heart of yours, just as it did mine as I stood knee-deep in the mire at Latitude.