Guy Garvey describes the album as “an angry, old blue lament which finds its salvation in family, friends, the band and new life.” It is a record that lyrically takes in moments of deep personal loss whilst reflecting its times by confronting head-on the spectres of injustice and division not just in the UK but across the world. It is a record that could only have been made in the 21st Century.
Given such bleak, if ultimately redeemed, subject matter, it is also, perversely, the most relaxed record which elbow have made in some time. On ‘Giants of All Sizes’, each band member extended their usual process of working on demos alone and followed their vision to its conclusion rather than, as Craig Potter puts it, ‘taking the edges off things to find compromise’. In tandem with this, they returned to playing live in the studio, encouraged to experiment with the banks of analogue equipment at Clouds Hill in Northern Germany, giving songs a looser, more live feel.
The result is the most starkly dynamic record from the band in recent times, “Sonically unabashed”, as Guy would have it. Whilst album closer ‘Weightless’ has the gossamer melodies and communal harmonies for which the band have latterly been known, this album echoes earlier elbow work at times whilst also breaking new ground.
‘White Noise White Heat’ is motorik, metal machine soul driven by a vocal that is rage incarnate, ‘Doldrums’ mixes John Carpenter with The Plastic Ono Band to brilliantly disturbing effect and ‘On Deronda Road’ hitches stark bass beats and glitches to an ad-hoc choir. ‘Empires’ delivers dark resignation via an insidious melody and ‘Seven Veils’ continues the subversion by inverting the perception of elbow as a band for lovers into a band for haters, a double-barrelled fuck-you song par excellence. ‘The Delayed 3:15’ marries mariarchi guitars to jazz dynamics, Morricone via Buddy Rich, and ‘My Trouble’ is a clockwork, analogue shuffle housing a delicate melody that builds over the course of the song into a fragile monolith to the power of love.
Lead track, ‘Dexter & Sinister’, released on 10” ahead of the album, encapsulates the whole. A seven-minute musical journey that blends deep bass grooves, sudden keyboard stabs, dislocated piano and guitar runs and soul stylings then abruptly shifts gear, parts the storm clouds and takes wing, flying towards the heat of the sun. It is the soundtrack for these ‘hope free, faith free, charity free days’, a denial of the divine and a reconciliation, two songs in one song, two emotions for one emotion, human, fragile and brilliant like the album which it opens.