on 10 November 2005
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.
on 5 December 2005
Truly an album that requires repeat listenings. Many, many times will you have to listen to this before you truly appreciate it. On first listen it's pretty enough, nothing new...but the album's genius lies under it's skin.
I reccommend dimming the lights, lying down, playing this at a reasonable volume and listening very carefully to the sounds you're hearing. It's only then when it becomes apparent how unique Elbow are.
Their trick involves compiling sounds together to form a cohesive whole, held together by enthusiastic drumming and bassing. Nowhere better is this exemplified than on the stunning "My Very Best"...I don't know where most of those noises come from, but added to the mix are lush violins, delicate electronics and spidery guitar lines. The cumulative impact is a gorgeous song. It's like building a palace out of gold bricks. The end effect is beautiful, but every single brick is equally beautiful.
See, this album needs time to be picked apart. Listen to the intricate arrangements and appreciate how innovative this band truly are. Their sound is a warm, human sound, perfect for these winter months. Let it seep in and you'll find it soundtracking your life. Personally, I always hear "Station Approach" in my head when I walk through big cities these days.
When you've a track record as sound and as promising as Elbow's is, it isn't wrong to have great expectations for their latest offering... It's alright, the boys don't disappoint.
Picking up from where 'Cast of Thousands' left off, this album develops further in just about every aspect. In terms of mood and general sound, their 2003 release felt a lot more spacious and hopeful than 'Asleep In The Back', this newie just opens everything up again making the tracks seem enormous and epic, but without losing the humble touch that makes Elbow songs so charming.
'Station Approach' kicks the album off as a gathering builder like 'Ribcage' was previously before exploding into a stomper of an anthem. 'Picky Bugger' seems understated and cute, but there are typically sinister tones in Garvey's lyrics showing that the band have far from given up on the more menacing songs in their backcatalogue. 'Forget Myself', the first single, soars mightily with a massive energy that I've never heard in Elbow before- another indication of the gutsy direction taken here. 'The Stops' takes things down a peg and is a fine example of the hard work that has gone into the production on this record (which I'll come to later). The title track that follows is perhaps the most un-elbow one here, and whilst you might be caught off guard by the bizarre out-of-character guitar bit, it's not difficult to notice the similarities with 'Coming Second' off their debut- marching along with a bite and a sharp tongue, its a real highlight and (hopefully) a single. 'An Imagined Affair' calms things down again, but seemed to pass me by a bit on the first listen- perhaps one of those growers as a song that needs attention. Following this, the boys push the boundaries once more with 'Mexican Standoff' which, again, feels like a combination of the first two albums ('Red' and 'Fallen Angel' this time) creating a whole new beast altogether.
From here, all the solid, cohesive work thats gone on takes a slightly different form to close the album. 'The Everthere' is a bit of classic Elbow which plods along in a unpresumtious manner, but has your attention nonetheless. 'My Very Best' is another of my personal faves which is serene, tender and fully sincere made complete with a few familiar contributions from the string section. Next up is 'Great Expectations' which is something of a pure love song Garvey-style. The vocals echo and the mood is deeply melancholic but intensely personal as is common in Guy's lyrics- you wouldn't argue with the truth in the stories being told here and in the other songs, all the while adding magic of this collection. 'Puncture Repair' follows the fine tradition of easy album closers and really makes you appreciate the quality of Guy's talent as a singer and lyricist.
What impresses me most about 'Leaders of the Free World', is the way it shows all of the best qualities of Elbow. It has the cynical rocking with a restless temper that showed on the first album, but still had all the hope and spaciousness that was achieved by 'Cast of Thousands'. A lot of this is down to the quality production that has gone on here. This might sound corny, but it REALLY does sound like you're in the studio with the band while they're playing and to complement this, in between songs you can hear the band having a laugh with each other or discussing drumming techniques. Whilst this effect is achieved, it doesn't sound live or have any rawness which sacrifices the special atmosphere of a really good studio recording.
I wouldn't be surprised if, after several more listens, this becomes my favourite Elbow record and in terms of the wider world, they'll blow everything else out of the water when released in September. It doesn't even sound like they're trying. Elbow are just one of those bands that regardless of what the fashion or the scene is, they carry on with things on their own terms and still achieve something that sounds as original as it did five years ago. Glorious.
on 13 September 2005
Regulars of indie night life were introduced to a disquieting concept last month with the release of "Forget Myself", the first single off "Leaders of the Free World". Elbow? Them drab Mancs, who can't really be called sub-Coldplay because they're too grey, bringing out a dance floor smash? But yes- with pounding drums and a shout along chorus, Elbow are back, clearly with something prove. Although there's nothing else on "Leaders..." that will satisfy the casual Franz fan, the same sense of things coming together for the Bury quintet is tangible throughout. Long-term fans will savour classic slow burners like "The Stops" and "My Very Best", but there's the sarkily spare "Picky Bugger" and the ferocious bite of the title track to consider, too. Guy Garvey's lyrics also seem to get better and better with every listen, with genius lines like 'I feel like I designed the buildings I walk past' and 'they're pacing Piccadilly in packs again' leaping out when you least expect it. "The Everthere" is a heart-wrenching take on "When I'm 64", whilst the man in "Great Expectations" is so drenched in love he imagines weddings in the most mundane of settings.
Elbow are part of a very select group of British rock acts, which include in their number Super Furry Animals, British Sea Power and Mogwai, who every few years release yet another masterpiece which their fans devour and the general public largely ignores. No doubt "Leaders..." will attract the same amount of middling interest that "Cast of Thousands" did, but those who own it will know better. Why let the general public have songs as perfect as "An Imagined Affair" and "Station Approach" anyway? This is Elbow's best yet.
on 13 January 2006
as you can see from other reviews this album is obviously brilliant.
previously i had heard nothing of Elbows work and only decided to get it because of the rave review in Q magazine and its true that it is a grower, but over the 2 months or so i have had it i have had 4 different "favourite songs" great expectations, leaders of the free world, the stops and station approach.
this is testiment to the sheer brilliance of the album: there really is no filler, its all killer.
Also all the other reviews here seem to also have different favourite songs with the most occuring seeming to be great expectations. try this song, give it a few listens and the u will be hooked.
on 16 November 2005
You would be forgiven for thinking that Elbow is simply a rip-off of Doves or Coldplay. Doves and Coldplay are more well-known, so they must be Elbow's inspiration, right? Wrong! Elbow have been together for over 10 years and they were writing songs for 'Asleep in the Back' before anyone had even heard of Coldplay. In fact, Chris Martin recently admitted that he used the Elbow track 'Grace Under Pressure' as inspiration for his song 'Fix You'. Unfortunately Chris Martin failed miserably in recreating the Elbow magic, but we can't blame him for wanting to imitate the sound of such an innovative and remarkable band.
I had been on the edge of my seat waiting for 'Leaders of the Free World' for what seemed decades and when it was finally released I was blown away. See, that's the brilliant thing about Elbow; it is obvious upon listening to their music that they spend time crafting each song into something truly special. There are absolutely no fillers whatsoever on this album.
The band's showcase begins with the brilliantly uplifting 'Station Approach'. The repetition of: "I never know what I want but I know when I'm low that I need to be in the town where they know what I'm like and don't mind" acts as a blinding build up to the explosive guitar/drum filled climax of the song. I also think the song is articulately constructed in the sense that it has the characteristics of a train: the drone of the wheels...the build up as the train picks up speed...the climax of noise as the train actually approaches the station...it's all been characterised by the song and it clearly demonstrates the band's immense talent. It's during this opening number that you either fall completely head over heels in love with the band as a new listener, or break out into a huge grin if you already think the band is incredible.
The rest of the album is much the same standard. The title track, 'Leaders of the Free World', is a blatant dig at Bush and Blair which manages to sound triumphant and inspiring rather than turning into yet another one of those anti-politician drones that many lesser bands would find acceptable to produce. Other stand-out tracks include the outstanding anthems 'Forget Myself' and 'Mexican Standoff', as well as beautiful ballads such as 'The Stops', 'My Very Best' and 'Great Expectations'. No song on this album fails to impress.
The bonus DVD which comes as part of this package is very skillfully made and is so much more than just a mere behind the scenes look at the recording of the album. Elbow recorded the album in a big space so 'The Soup Collective' were called in to record performances and add a bit of visual value to the whole experience. The bonus DVD contains a further song called 'McGreggor' which is rather dark and is perfect for demonstrating the sheer power and depth in Guy Garvey's voice.
Most of Elbow's songs contain build ups and climaxes and this is what makes them truly unique. I have yet to find another band which has managed to produce such diverse albums. Every single song on 'Asleep in the Back' makes me shiver from their sheer overwhelming beauty. 'Cast of Thousands' fills me with hope and calls out to my romantic side (Fugitive Motel will forever be the most romantic and awe-inspiring song I've ever heard). Rather than sticking with the exact same sound for Leaders of the Free World, Elbow have managed to "pull all the stops" and have successfully developed yet another unique masterpiece.
on 11 September 2005
I remember seeing an unknown band supporting Muse and thinking at the time 'Sounds good live, wonder what the album's like'. Needless to say I bought the album and became hooked. This 3rd album is a pure gem. Every track has it's merit and I particularly praise 'The everthere and forget myself'. Guy Garvey should be up for a songwriting award with this collection. He leaves you in no doubt that life is a bit hard at times and love can tug at your heart strings. It's heart warming to think that the Brits can produce quality music, even if this band is never given the mass credit where it is clearly deserved and well overdue.
on 8 November 2005
It's hard to get excited about a band like Elbow. If you've only ever heard the odd song previously, or worse you've only ever seen a picture of the band, you might easily dismiss them as 'sub-radiohead whinging northerners'. Fair enough. This record though is hard to fault. There are not many albums that have an 'all-killer, no-filler' track list. The songs are instantly melodic with great arrangement and an earnest (if slightly miserable) delivery. Even better, the record has had no hype, no hit singles and is not remotely 'in'. There is absolutely no chance that the lead singer is going ot marry a hollywood 'A' list actress and you won't hear the songs in Starbucks or a car advert. Buy this record but don't tell anyone else - i don't want everyone to know.
on 23 September 2005
If you know and love Elbow's first two CD's then rest assured that this one is even better. No reason not to buy it.
on 15 February 2006
Although I had heard 'Asleep in the Back' many moons ago (I thought it sounded a bit like late-Talk Talk but cant really remember), and so had a fair idea what to expect, this has really surprised me. . . In a good way!
Its true the vocalist sounds like Peter Gabriel (a very good thing) but the songs too have a real depth and emotional punch. . . Its rare (Bloc Party being the last time), that I put an album on repeat play but this is on a 2nd run-through already! 'Station Approach' is such a powerful opener and 'Picky Bugger' with some neatly- picked guitar follows suit nicely. There really doesnt seem to be a weak track. . .
Fans of 'epic' Indie (a genre that I consider to have been founded by Elbow with that debut album and The Doves with the magnificent 'Lost Souls'), will love this but I would hate to be in, for example, Keane or Hundred Reasons and hear this. . . Elbow make it sound so effortless but really are making some beautiful music!
'Forget Myself' and 'An Imagined Affair' are also truly magisterial in their power and beauty but its 'Leaders of the Free World' that grabs you. . . I bought this one because I caught the video a couple of weeks back and this 6-minute epic at the albums heart is the true highlight.
There you go, as easy as that, an amazing, original and heartfelt album (probably the 3rd that they've done!) Must go and check out 'Cast Of Thousands' now. . .