CD Review: Elbow — The Seldom Seen Kid

Elbow-seldom_seen_kid Elbow
The Seldom Seen Kid
Geffen

Epic and sweeping are words often used in music criticism, but they are words vital for describing Elbow's repertoire. The moving string arrangements paired with the tender lyrics and caressing vocals of Guy Garvey make the band just as sensual as their name (inspired by the reasoning from BBC show "Singing Detective," where a character said the word elbow is the more sensual-sounding word in the English language).

After almost two years of existence and many critically-acclaimed releases, Elbow have finally gotten the commercial success to match with The Seldom Seen Kid. And it is a masterpiece. Another word that is banded around but this record was a shining beacon in 2008, the year of its release. With vague but poetic notions of a powerful dictator getting old and falling in love (take that, Coldplay), Garvey waxes about abandoning all previous beliefs and obligations for this woman who has turned his world upside down.

"You are the only thing in any room you are ever in/I'm stubborn, selfish and too old" he declares in quietly stirring opener "Starlings," before confiding, "I told you how the truest love that's ever found is for oneself/You pulled apart my theory with a weary and disinterested sigh." It's a perfect love song to a woman who he feels surpasses everything about this powerful man. The following musings are very much a juxtaposition of the first line of "How dare the premier ignore my invitation/He'll have to go," all sung over a heart-breakingly simple, sparse drum beat that continue through the random blasts of cacophony that interrupts the solitude.

"An Audience With The Pope" follows along the same lines as far as subject-matter goes, with the narrator singing about abandoning his duties to save the world and meet with his holiness to attend to his loved one over a mesmerizing tango. At a complete juxtaposition, "Weather To Fly" is dreamy and light, opening with Garvey's rare falsetto accompanied by a delicate ostinato on the piano, repeating itself over and over throughout the piece as rag-and-bone percussion, soft horns and strumming acoustic guitar join in.

Garvey's natural voice, both at once smoky and choral like a cherub who has made the rounds at the pubs in the band's native Manchester, stays steady and true with his northern lilt throughout the album, able to stand eons above from the band's modern counterparts, distinct and sincere without seeming naive. Nowhere is this truer than on the album's standout track, "One Day Like This," a song which must be the embodiment of epic and sweeping. With a string section that could have come from heaven itself, and Garvey's vocals sweeping in from the epic ecstatic highs to the crooning tender lows, the song builds to a sing-along of glorious proportions, "Throw those curtains wide/One day like this will see me right."

It was made for life-afirming sun-shiny Glastonbury crowds, and it got that very treatment at that year's Glastonbury, complete with full strings and people going silly with their arms in the air. We've put the video up on this website again but it deserves another gander, so it's down below. Watch it when the whole world is against you and feel the weight being lifted from your shoulders.

Elbow plays Center Stage on August 8.

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