Album Review: Elbow – Little Fictions

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I was so desperate for new music that I went on an immensely popular music review site (subtle hint: it’s named after the farming tool people will take up against you when you tell them you don’t understand what the hell Bon Iver was trying to achieve with 22, a Million) for the first time last week. In the fifteen minutes I was on the website, one album cover caught my eye, and ended up being my favorite full album that I’ve listened to in months.

Elbow is a rock band from the UK, and they have been playing under that name since 1997, and even longer as bandmates. They are very popular in the UK – this and previous albums have reached the top of UK charts, and they won a BRIT Award for Best British Group in 2009 (thanks, Wikipedia). They are known for the slower vibe on their songs, sometimes accompanied by strings. I love anything (anything, even metal) with strings, which is why I looked up the album in the first place. There weren’t as many soaring strings as I was hoping for, but there were enough, and I think I listened to the album at the right time – Friday evening, at sunset. It took me a few listens and the help of lyric websites to get the most of the words down, but please read the lyrics for the first verse of the opening track, “Magnificent (She Says)”:

“This is where, this is where the bottle lands / Where all the biggest questions meet / With little feet stood in the sand / This is where the echoes swell to nothing on the tide / And where a tiny pair of hands / Finds a sea-worn piece of glass / And sets it as a sapphire in her mind.”

Just think about these for a bit, the specific yet open imagery it conjures in your mind. The rest of the album is just about the same, and I was hooked.

The album is all about being in love, as frontman Guy Garvey has just recently married actress Rachael Stirling (as reported by The Guardian). It’s blindingly obvious just from the lyrics of songs like “Gentle Storm” (“Fall in love with me / every day”) and “Trust the Sun” (“I just don’t trust the sun to rise / when I can’t see your eyes / you’re my reason for breathing”). The arrangements of the strings, piano, guitars, and drums complement the lyrics perfectly, as lush and free as the love Garvey spends 48 minutes trying to explain through song.

I didn’t understand any of that at first (not that it applies to my life, anyway), and I just let the music wash over me; honestly, it felt like a salve. I don’t completely understand why, but a middle-aged British man singing that “It’s all gonna be magnificent” in a deep warble while a full orchestra is roiling away behind him is exactly what I needed these past few days.

Along with the songs I mentioned above, some of my other favorites are “All Disco” (“What does it prove if you die for a tune / it’s really all disco”), “Montparnasse” (“Your heart could easily power three of me / should my love get lost in the delivery”), and the title track (yeah, it’s 8 minutes, but a) I listen to metal regularly so I’m used to that and b) the jangly beat and the strings make the song fly by). I’m still trying to get the hang of all the lyrics because I keep focusing on the beauty of the music so much. Indeed, it sometimes feels that the music and Garvey’s voice are fighting for dominance, instead of working in unison, but it’s a very small detraction from an otherwise great album. I recommend it for weekday evenings, or any time you need a British dude to tell you how much he loves being in love, and that everything’s going to be just fine. From “Little Fictions”: “Love is the original miracle.”

Bonus tidbit: The music video for “Gentle Storms” features Benedict Cumberbatch. Yes, really. No, I don’t know why. Watch below, if you’d like.

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