Album Review: Elbow – Little Fictions

It’s almost nine years since The Seldom Seen Kid announced the breakthrough of Mancunian troubadours Elbow, with their witty and poetic, uplifting and anthemic hits including Grounds For Divorce and, well, you know, that one that either gives you butterflies everytime or makes you want to punch the radio. It was also the first Elbow album to be entirely self-produced, mixed and recorded by the band, and whilst their previous records (Asleep In The Back, Cast Of Thousands and Leaders Of The Free World) were beautiful and engrossing in their own way, the production work of band-pianist Craig Potter have made their most recent works particularly striking. Moreover, their seventh effort, Little Fictions, is a record that captures all that they have achieved, experienced and altered over the past decade – from The Seldom Seen Kid, to the stunning Build A Rocket Boys!, to the sentimental and at times sombre The Take Off And Landing Of Everything.

There have been changes within the band too, most notably the departure of drummer Richard Jupp, and the marriage of lead-man Guy Garvey. The latter is clearly a particular influence throughout the record, as his honeymoon-penned lyrics echo the joy of new love, without ever being too soppy – a sign of Garvey’s true poetic craftsmanship. Furthermore, for those who found The Take Off And Landing Of Everything and his 2015 solo effort Courting The Squall a little uneasy – the lyrics being unusually pessimistic and ‘not Elbow-esque’, influenced by Garvey’s emotional turmoil after a romantic split from his long-term partner – fans of the comforting and soul-lifting side of Elbow will not be disappointed by Little Fictions.

The album begins with that reliable Elbow sound that we’ve become acquainted with. The textured grooves of drum and bass, combined with the swirling and swooping strings of Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra, all led by Garvey’s gruff yet choirboy-like vocals. It’s life-affirming, it stirs the emotions, it’s Elbow at their finest. What’s also noticeable is the hypnotic rhythm that crops up throughout the album. Jupp’s departure came as a surprise to many, and one was uncertain on how this may effect the band’s future output, with the likes of Little Beasts, Forget Myself and The Bones Of You all being what they are due to his exceptional, driving beats. Nonetheless, and with respect to Jupp, Elbow have managed to seamlessly push-off from his decampment, using the input of drummer Alex Reeves to help create some wonderfully playful and seductive sounds, heard most notably in second track Gentle Storm and the off-kilter Firebrand & Angel. 

Guitarist Mark Potter describes the record as “the sound of four people who love what they do and each other”, and this is clearly evident on the record, much as it was on the likes of The Seldom Seen Kid and Build A Rocket Boys!. What’s more, the new record has allowed Potter’s guitar strings to take centre stage on several occasions, particularly on the triumphant All Disco, which displays an influence of Lou Reed with the The Velvet Underground. In contrast, the ethereal and delicate plucking throughout the poetic and pretty Head For Supplies take a step back, allowing Garvey’s ode to his home city and his new wife to rightly be the focal point. It’s a stunning track and once again highlights the beauty of his lyrical talent.

Now as a fourpiece, the band took to the outback of Scotland to re-group and begin recording, before heading back down to their home at Blueprint Studios in Salford, via a stint in Garvey’s attic. Throughout this time, news of Brexit and the passing of David Bowie played a part in the band’s songwriting, and never one to shy away from letting his views be heard (take a listen to Snowball on the Help!: A Day In The Life War Child compilation), Garvey declares his stance on the reflective K2 – “They only know the villains at the tiller / And they gambled the farm on a headline”. Yet despite the horrendous outcomes of 2016, Little Fictions as a whole is a much-needed return to an upbeat and hopeful Elbow, not ignoring the past year’s upsets, but choosing instead to make their position heard before moving on to happier times – found, for example, in the 8 minute-long title-track which slowly climbs to the ultimate conclusion – “Love is the original miracle”.

Kindling bring the record to an end, reflective and glorious, as one has come to expect from fellow Mancunians. It’s almost become a custom that Garvey lays out all of his love on each record’s final track – be it for a departed friend, his wonderful home city, or simply for those supportive people around him. It’s another stunner, and brings together everything that both Elbow and Little Fictions can be – melancholic at times, sometimes even desperate, yet ever hopeful, enriching and heartwarming. In a time of global uncertainty, this is a record that allows one to take a moment, reflect, and draw on the positivity of those closest to us.

Dominic Kay