Sound — 9
This is my first Elbow album, and so perhaps I can't tell you whether the band's sound has progressed or stayed relatively the same, but perhaps that doesn't matter. I bought the album on the strength of single "Grounds For Divorce" along with an acoustic performance of "Some Riot". "Grounds For Divorce" is both raucous and beautiful, with Guy Garvey's soft voice contrasting with the Zeppelin-esque fuzz riff. "The Bones of You" again juxtaposes soft, acoustic verses with a wet, almost Muse-like bass line in the chorus, a line that does not seem memorable and yet when you listen to the song again, you long for it to arrive. "Weather to Fly" and the epic "One Day Like This" are upbeat, atmospheric and life affirming. "The Fix" mixes some groove with a Shadows-y solo, and "An Audience with the Pope" is another track that is quirky and compulsive. The final song I will draw attention to is "Friend of Ours", probably the most emotionally driven track on the album, in tribute to a late friend of the band. Guy is on top form singing wise, in my opinion his voice is probably among the best at being emotional but not melodramatic. The track has tasteful, endearing flutters of piano, bass, guitar and strings throughout and this comes together to form a beautiful tribute. As we are on a guitar site, I should probably talk about Mark Potter's playing. The subtle slide playing in "Grounds For Divorce" is perhaps a much better example of what his playing is like than the fuzz riff. If you listen to the whole album, you realise that the guitar is never intrusive on the music. When the guitar is brought to the front it is tasteful, melodic and contributes to the overall feel of the song, and those three qualities sum up Mark's playing perfectly.
Lyrics — 9
"Friend of Ours" is a good example to use in terms of describing Elbow's approach to lyrics. Guy Garvey's singing adds an emotional weight to the song rarely found these days, and when coupled with concise, beautiful words like "Love you mate". He softly utters perhaps the most fitting words for a song about grief: "Never very good at goodbyes." The album is probably about 75% of this style, of beautifully sung lyrics that are heartfelt and real, and then the other 25% consists of more quirky, poetical verse. "I have an audience with the Pope. And I'm saving the world at eight." springs to mind. Guy is joined by the smooth, jazzy voice of Richard Hawley on "The Fix" and the lyrics reflect the slightly odd pairing with equal amounts of strangeness. "The fix is in, the jockey is cocky and vicious". Overall Guy has a fantastic voice being perhaps the only consistent instrument used, and this really makes the album in my opinion.
Overall Impression — 9
Elbow are very difficult band to compare others with. They have a mellowness to them similar to some of "In Rainbows" and then they shove a track like "Grounds For Divorce" or "Audience With The Pope" on the album to show it's not all about sparse, delicate soundscapes. I cannot think of anyone with a voice like Guy Garvey, either in sound or in emotion and this makes the album and the band special to me. My favourite tracks would be "Grounds for Divorce", "Friend of Ours", "One Day Like This", "Audience With The Pope" and "The Bones Of You". I love the quality of the song writing on this album, it shows that a talented guitar player does not have to take focus off the songs. Perhaps the only negative thing about this album is that I don't know whether they would be able to replicate the songs live, but I would gladly give them a shot (They were good on Jonathan Ross and they do play live on that show). Also I am afraid that their earlier stuff might not compare, of course hardened Elbow fans would probably like to bite my head off for inferring a later album is better than an earlier one. I am so glad I took a chance with this album, it makes for an engaging, pleasant listen overall.