all consuming and fit to burst with subtle complexities...
Huw Jones

14:09 13th March 2008

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Sadly, all good things must at some point come to an end, and ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ is rumoured to be Elbow’s last release in album format, a response to the ever growing trend in MP3 downloads. Thankfully, the release doesn’t signal the end of the band and even better ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ is arguably their best work to date. Named in memory of a friend of the band who died two years ago, the fourth album, like their third long-player, ‘Leaders Of The Free World’, was recorded at Blueprint Studios in Salford and was entirely self-produced by the band.

First and foremost, one of the most enjoyable aspects of ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ is that it rewards repeated listening, and should be heard as a whole which is essential in order to appreciate the textural depth and lyrical beauty of the album in full. That’s not to say its hard work; it’s a complete pleasure from start to finish and the more you listen to it, the better it gets. Elbow don’t merely churn out tracks for the sake of it, they create intelligently detailed poetry, match instrumentation, bring characters to life with a vivid and photographic realism and let the music do all the talking, putting many of their contemporaries to shame in the process.

The album starts with ‘Starlings’, a cacophony of buzz and orchestration which in turn gives way to the warming plod of gentle percussion and a soaring vocal that slowly but surely invites, rather than drags you in. Punctuated with strings and bursts of brass, it’s a track that firmly establishes itself; as does the urgency and structured control of ‘The Bones Of You’. Both, like the remainder of the album succeed by building on effective simplicity. The floating sleepy dream haze of ‘Mirrorball’, the simple fuzz, huge riffs and propulsion of ‘Grounds For Divorce’ and the almost unnaturally slow Eastern European fairground enchantment of ‘An Audience With The Pope’ elevate Elbow well and truly into a league of their own and illustrate a band who have completely mastered their craft. The palatial and understated resonance of ‘The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver’ creates a vast sound seemingly out of nothing and if the album were to end here, you’d be more than happy.

Thankfully it doesn’t and the iridescent and animated vocal pairing of Garvey and Richard Hawley in ‘The Fix’ leads into the minimal, muted and ethereal daze inducing ‘Some Riot’. There’s an almost oppressive yet liberating beauty throughout and to pick a highlight of the album is a hard call, but ‘Weather To Fly’, which immerses itself in its own cathartic swell, is definitely a contender; as is the penultimate track, ‘One Day Like This’, one of the most emotive and affecting points of the album. Its imperious and celebratory chorus, cushioned on a bed of pure genius is as near to perfection as you could hope to get. The album finishes with a hint of suspended sadness in ‘Friends Of Ours’, and its at this point the realisation hits you that Elbow have successfully wrapped you up and carried you away into their own incredibly talented world.

‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ is delicate, all consuming and fit to burst with subtle complexities that are anything but emotionally claustrophobic. Although stunningly sonic and certain to receive immense critical acclaim, whether or not commercial success mirrors the magnitude of the album and the magnificence of one of the best bands in Britain, remains to be seen.

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