Sound: Elbow had been a band for 15 years when releasing their third album "Leaders Of The Free World". Another record label change had taken place just before the birth of this album; so things were looking turbulant in camp Elbow. The band self-produced the album in a space in Salford - close to their home of Manchester (Bury). To be frank, the album was a flop. With only two singles released - none of which reaching number 20 in the charts - the album never really poked through into the public eye. As per usual with Elbow, the album touched the hearts of their cult following, and also gained great critical acclaim; but nobody bought the thing. I find this immensly surprising, as the album is, well, without sounding too bias - bloody brilliant! It is indeed slightly different to the Elbow we heard from the previous two albums; containing more jaggy edges and sharp points. It still has that evocative rise of love and pride - that Elbow always seem to provide, but it certainly took a different approach from the norm. Some songs offered a more poppy angle - like first single "Forget Myself", others had a serrated, unruly feel like "Picky Bugger", there's the love song in "Great Expectations", and of course, there's the good old Elbow anthem - the title track.
You also get a feel for the rockier side of Elbow on the record. "Mexican Standoff" contains heavily overdriven riffs, and the album's title track contains one of the only Elbow guitar solos. A thing to note though, is the lack of orchestral sounds on the album. "My Very Best" has a brash strings hookline, and that's it - for the entire album. Elbow have always loved using strings - as singer Guy Garvey arranges their parts, yet they are almost entirely absent on the album. The album is incredibly well produced, giving a superbly tight sound - not that of a pop band; you can still tell it's the purists, but it is really clean cut and clear. // 9
Lyrics: Guy Garvey is the has to be considered as one of the best frontmen of our time. Not only does his singing voice on the album delight and overjoy the listener; but so do his candid, beautiful, and even simplistic lyrics. Take "Forget Myself" as a prime example. "The man on the dooe has a head like mars, like a baby born to the doors of the bars, surrounded by steam with his folded arms, he's got that urban genie thing going on, he's so mercifully free of the pressures of grace, St. Peter in satin - he's like Bhudda with mace" - what more needs to be said really. Garvey appeals to the anarchistic, "feckless son" (Leaders of the Free World), and their Grandmother. "Great Expectations" is an achingly beautiful song; full of regret and reflection over a lover. "You were the sun in my Sunday morning", "Spitfire thin and strung like a violin", and "I'll live on the smile as we move down the isle of the last bus home" all demonstrate my point. Guy oncce said in an interview that "the objective of lyric writing is to get as much power and emotion across in as little words as possible" Garvey knows how to really get to the listener, form an attachment with them, and ultimately, offer immense listening pleasure.
His brilliant vocal skills are also present on the title track, "Forget Myself", "Station Approach", and "Great Expectations". I have to say people - its all there! // 10
Overall Impression: I can honestly say that I am stumped as to why this album was a false starter. I mean, I personally feel that it is the most user friendly Elbow album - and one that the Elboys themselves are immensly proud of. Overall, I would say this is a superb album. if you've heard Elbow before, and not necessarily liked it, give this a chance - it's different to your expectations. As a huge fan of the band, I cannot say if this is my favourite album of theirs or not; but it's certainly considered.
If you're looking for a new band to get into, and you like anything from Coldplay to Metallica, and from Radiohead to Leonard Cohen, go get this - and their other albums.
One small note to add is: they're such a great bunch of guys too. Garvey is a true gentleman, and the whole band have a great laugh doing what they do. In an interview, Garvey stated that he was "really pleased to be doing what he was doing, especially with his best mates". the fact that they are armed with the lack of care of how well an album does, makes them better at it - making this album extra special - after a huge fallout with their previous record label. Go to see them live; they play a lot from this album on tours. I urge you to go see them, and I plead you to buy the album! Go get it! // 9