Elbow – Giants Of All Sizes: Album Review

Release Date: 11th October 2019

Label: Polydor

Formats: CD, DL, LP

Time for another trip to planet Elbow with a soundtrack that promises some departures from the tried and trusted but enough of the familiar Garvey clout.

An album created and crafted from Hamburg to Vancouver and back to London, the idyllic Real World Studios in Bath and of course Blueprint in Salford. Craig Potter has talked of  the album’s musical variety, experimentation and brave choices as “wanting to sound sonically different from our previous albums,” and of the option “not to take the usual road, allowing tracks to be themselves, not taking the edges off stuff.” Laudable enough in wanting to progress and initial impressions are that they’ve returned to the more experimental template that excited us about Elbow in the early days before they hit Mercury, went global and found their way onto the coffee tables of the nation.

The record also aims for a lyrical departure from the norm, with Guy Garvey’s words reflecting something he calls “a bruised record…concerned with mourning, dissatisfaction, unrest and death, but one that finds salvation in family, friends, the band and new life.” Maybe a reflection too of his own turbulent times. Boris, Donald and Grenfell could all be pulled into the equation but as we scan the lyrics there are plenty of signs of Garvey reflecting on the death of his father while his own family and first child grow, take shape and find their place in a (not very brave) new world.

Sinister And Dexter has already given a hint of the bold new approach and hinted that the nations favourite version of the more recent incarnation of Elbow has given way to one that suggests they’ve been casting an eye back to the days when they were asleep at the back . At the same time they’ve been channeling their mutual admiration for Peter Gabriel (remember him?). A groove that recalls Forget Myself, but instead of pacing Piccadilly in packs again, Garvey sings about not knowing  Jesus anymore, carried along by a strength of rhythm and percussion that infuses the album. In the absence of anything relevant from PG in recent times, it’s a chance for his faithful to divert their attention to a new idol.

It also sets the scene for the grooves, electronics, art-pop, metallic industrial stabs and off-kilter moments that litter the songs. Maybe it’s challenging and requires some investment, but there’s a confessional self-reflection as Garvey concedes to the dangers of becoming a “blarney Mantovani with a lullaby” in the hostility of White Noise White Heat. “I kind of renounce all our previous records with this song,” he says in a dose of reality shocker.

However, there are still strains of the familiar. Empires has one of those well scanned and typically wordy Garvey deliveries that snakes around the quivering horror movie organ stabs, while public transport in the form of trains and buses again play their roles. The Delayed 3:15 is a train to Manchester that was stopped by a suicide prompting Garvey to complete his lyric to Mark Potter’s tune that comes with a hint of Morricone. Possibly the same stretch that found him penning the ‘sun on the skin warmth’ that was Kindling from Little Fictions with its country-styled musical inflections. He’s been on the bus again too. Not the old 524 from Bury to Bolton that proved a rich source of ideas (which used to stop outside our house and has forever had me wondering if he ever gazed into our front room from the top deck), but finds him feeling the love traveling on Deronda Road in Brixton with his son.

Ultimately though, the thoughts on the songs on Giants Of All Sizes all lead to the the subtle might of Weightless, where Elbow have crafted a new masterpiece. A first encounter with the album may not have you reaching the end and starting again, but simply scanning back to refresh Weightless again (and again). No glorious casting open of curtains or declarations of magnificence. This is more the ‘to be here and now and who we are’ variety and from the same place as the close to the bone-ness of the Scattered Black And Whites of their first record. The idea that we are part of something bigger yet that we are all important to someone in our lives comes from Garvey talking to his son about his own dad and acknowledging their part of the lineage.  Based on a modest musical motif with little flourishes, it’s so simple yet the impact comes from not sentimentality and mawkishness but our own recognition of who we are and where we’re from. For all the earlier bluff, it’s an intimate Mantovani lullaby moment par excellence.

Hey – You look like me

So we look like him

When the time came 
Just like you are 
He was weightless 
In my arms

Yes, they may have previously declared that they were running out of miracles, but on Giants Of All Sizes they’ve achieved their target to provide “an antidote to the current situation through positive anthems.” But then haven’t Elbow always done that?

So this is Empires from the album:

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