One of the pleasures of music is discovering a band early in their career and watching them grow and mature until they produce the album that you always suspected they were capable of. So it is with myself, Elbow and 'Leaders of the Free World'.
For me, the highlights of 'Asleep in the Back' and 'Cast of Thousands' were 'Powder Blue' and 'Fugitive Motel' respectively. So is there anything on the new album that reaches the heights those two tracks attained? Well maybe not quite, but taken as a whole, this is a wonderful album which displays a level of song writing and craftsmanship rarely seen these days.
It is some time since I owned an album in which I have felt confident enough to play every track from start to finish without worrying about 'that weaker track' or the usual 'fillers' (and OK Computer may be the last one, which gives some indication of how highly I rate this).
Highlights are too many to mention and like all good albums, keep revealing themselves with each listening, but 'Great Expectations' is pure Elbow. Beautiful melody, and heart-rending lyrics from which Guy Garvey drains every last ounce of emotion. If this song doesn't bring to you tears, then nothing will.
After years of promising so much, Elbow have finally delivered. My only worry now is how they'll manage to follow this. 'Leaders of the Free World' is their best album to date by a country mile, and although I haven't rubbed salt and pepper into my hair just yet, it's going to take a great deal of time and effort from the band to match this one. In the meantime though, this should just be enjoyed for the intimate, thought-provoking, polished piece of work it is.
An absolute gem.