Elbow has returned after two years with album number eight. During this time, the band has endured the loss of many of their loved ones. Instead of ignoring their experience, Elbow has channeled the pain into a gritty, layered album that is saturated with meditation.
The record opens with “Dexter & Sinister.” The guitars are grittier and dirtier and Guy Garvey brazenly sings “And I don’t know Jesus anymore.” The lyrics grow more poignant, declaring a loss of faith through the loss of loved ones. Each lyric is carefully crafted, Garvey confesses: “I’m a bird in a hurricane / With the heaviest heart jackhammering in me.” The song climaxes with operatic cries that sound both effortless and pained at once.
It’s not just the loss of his father and friends which has inspired Garvey’s distraught lyrics. Giants of All Sizes makes reference to the political climate in the UK and the current state of the world. “The Delayed 3:15” is like Elbow’s updated version of spoken word. The music is more like a repetitive background and repetitive track and what Elbow sings sounds like a poem rather than song lyrics. Garvey plays with modernist imagery that may even nod to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. He paints London as a “filthy fly-tip bramble” before softly delivering the cutting lines “I tried to find your name / You didn’t make the news / You’re just the man whose blues / Stopped his heart beneath our shoes.”
Garvey’s cynicism continues into the standout track “White Noise White Heat” which commences with the lyrics “I was born with trust / That didn’t survive the white noise of the lies.” Think punk which has aged into a well-rounded albeit slightly jagged fully-fledged grown-up. There’s anger there but there is also an element of maturity that Elbow brings with their sound.
The record concludes with “Weightless”. There are no bold statements or profound lyrics. It’s the sound of letting go at 2 am after a gin and tonic too many. There’s a sadness but also a kind of innocence. Beneath the grit, this is part of Elbow’s acclaimed appeal. “Weightless” thus seems like the perfect way to end an album which reflects on troubled times from music’s relentless optimist.