Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Albums for Life: 31: Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid

Now I know what every step is for
To lead me to your door...
Dawn gives me a shadow I know to be taller. 
All down to you
Everything has changed

I was chatting with Toronto Tim off the back of my last choice; attempting to justify my lowly position for the twat in the hat that once was Van Morrison. I think that it's because 'Astral Weeks' and 'Veedon Fleece' were recommended to me by others rather than me discovering them myself. I sense that maybe that's the essence of these lists; the more personal the discovery the closer we hold things, they become like an intimate member of our musical family.
If I were a mawkish man I'd carry this lot's photo in my wallet.
I first heard Elbow on a Radio One session way back before the release of 'Asleep at the Back'.
I vividly remember a chicken skin moment as Guy Garvey hit the hook of 'Powder Bluuuue'. It was a little bit Gabriel, a little bit Sylvian, a little bit proggy. The lyrics engaged, the playing was excellent but it was the voice that dragged you in; I recognized a kindred spirit in those northern vowels.
And Garvey seemed to have a healthy regard for the power of a song:

"... for those of us who turn the journey to work into a scene from a different film every day depending on the soundtrack, who cling to a good song on a bad day like a life raft, can conjure a memory instantly from the opening bars of an old favourite, who have the same feelings when hearing an album we don’t listen to any more that we do when thinking of an ex-lover... there has never been a better time for music.

I've been hooked ever since, willing the boys on and, bless their whiskery chops, they seldom disappoint.

“Melancholy or 'heartbreak songs', generally songs about love and loss, are comforters. You don’t want Julie Andrews when you are upset, you don’t want to be made to feel better with a jolly tune. You want to know that someone else has felt that way and you want to know that it’s OK to feel that way. Whether you are 12 or 20, your capacity for heartbreak is the same. It’s important to aknowledge it and it’s just as important to indulge it, because part of the healing process is to feel sad. So these are songs that make you feel comfortable in your sadness. Melancholy has a real purity to it, which is comfortable.”

2008's 'The Seldom Seen Kid' is surely the best album ever to win the dreaded Mercury Prize and is their finest moment thus far; confident, dynamic, emotionally intelligent, anthemic yet intimate.
Here they tick all of the boxes without compromise. Stadium or unplugged, their musicality bridges the gaps. Even when they are rocking they do so with restraint and subtlety.
The title of the album comes from one of Damon Runyon's Broadway tales; it was the nickname that Garvey's dad gave Bryan Glancy, a friend of the band who died suddenly in 2006. 'Friend of Ours' was written for Glancy and the album dedicated to him ("so gentle shoulder charge, love you mate"). Ultimately, I love this band because they never tire of trusting in tenderness ("I plant the kind of kiss that wouldn't wake a baby") and hold an unflinching, unapologetic affection for their roots that transcends the cynicism and tribalism of much modern music.

Pounding the streets where my father's feet still
Ring from the walls
We'd sing in the doorways, or bicker and row
Just figuring how we were wired inside

Perfect weather to fly

You've all punched the air to 'On a Day Like This' so, although the (self) production on the album is sublime, I've gone for a couple of quieter pieces that they performed in a fantastic session done, almost inevitably, at The Abbey Road Studios with the BBC Concert Orchestra...

The 3rd video is the whole show; full album played in order...


  1. It was the opposite for me with elbow. I had asleep at the back and that was it until this cam eout and then I bought it and the rest of their back catalogue in on ego. This is probably why much as I love the band not one lp sticks out as in my mind they all came at the same time. This one did nearly make the list though and listening to it now is a lot better than a few of the ones that made the final cut.

    Gh has got to be one of the best lyricist going to day and the opposite of the van/ryan adams syndrome - seemingly a top bloke as well

  2. Have you heard 'Lippy Kids' from their last album 'Build a Rocket Boys'?
    Might be my favourite Elbow after Mirrorball...
    Garvey does seem suitably rooted. He was going to be priest...

  3. I thought build a rocket was another top lp (as was there recent odds and ends cd) but this still just edges it

  4. Funny, I didn't real fall for the recent odds & sods thing...
    The debut is great too.

  5. on a sep note as I skate up my list I'll be getting to MM - as live footage and beaches of sri lanka videos are sadly lacking on youtube would be okay to post a couple of tracks (I would tell you which lp but it changes with the weather at the moment)

  6. Be my guest David.
    Highly honoured to be on your list; highly humbled to be so high...

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