The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


A review of the album 'Seldom Seen Kid' by Elbow

Elbow Seldom Seen KidReview Snapshot: Top class intelligent rock pop – Elbow could never make you happy but they could afford you a better class of misery. That’s all changed – Guy Garvey buys a "Choose Life!" teeshirt and drinks from the well of contentment.

The Cluas Verdict? 8.5 out of 10

Full Review:
I spent a miserable weekend in 2001 listening to "Asleep at the back", the Elbow debut. It did not float my boat – too claustrophobic, too twitchy, too forbidding, too foreboding. Elbow were trading unashamedly in unhappiness and over an entire album their blackness faded into an uneasy and unlovable grey.

I bought into "Seldom seen kid", their latest, because of Richard Hawley’s involvement. He duets with Elbow’s Guy Garvey, the band’s frontman, in the jaunty "the fix", where, get this, Elbow do Funny, and - even better - Sinfully Funny. The filter tipped Hawley as always sounds as if he was born, lives and will die in an overcrowded snug. Garvey, in fairness, outdoes him, sounding like a man that sleeps in doorways surrounded by empty Buckfast bottles. "The fix" is a cautionary waltz time tale of race fixing – when you hear the line "redoubtable beast" in a lyric you know you’re in a special place. Hawley and Garvey ham it up like noughties Frankie and Dinos, obviously loving every minute of it. But "the fix" is only one of a number of stunning tracks on this album.

Second track in, "The bones of you", is staggering – literally, it’s a great big loud woozy love song, Garvey belting out a superb lovelorn lyric underpinned by a swishing beat and masterful arrangement. Top it off with a ripping guitar solo and a sonic boom that morphs into the chorus and you’ve got one of the songs of this or any other year.

"Grounds for divorce" is reckoned by the critics to be a stand out and it is, it’s average, which is well below the quality of the rest of the album. It’s their "we will rock you", a weak lyric ("There'll be twisted karaoke at the Aniseed Lounge") and a chorus that goes nowhere.

It’s a serious aberration, in fairness, and "Audience with the Pope" takes place in the same murky world as "The Fix". The band sound like they’re playing in a grotty bordello and Garvey ruefully croons about the type of girl your mother warned you about, and with good reason. "Starlings", "One day like this" and "Mirrorball" are gorgeous love songs, absolutely awash with romance and longing while "Weather to fly" is one of the best songs ever written on families and how to survive them...

Poundin' the streets where my fathers feet still ring from the walls
and we sing in the doorways and just bickering around
figuring how we're wired inside
perfect weather to fly

"Weather to fly" had the potential to be a touchy feely mess but Garvey holds it all together. What could have been soft and sticky is instead wry and clear eyed.

If you’re downloading this album don’t cherry pick, it should be heard in its warts n’ all entirety. Pretty much everything on "Seldom seen Kid" sounds fresh and unforced – you get the impression that much of the arrangement work was done on the hoof and there is a depth and perception in Garvey’s lyrics that sometimes takes the breath away. It’s music with conviction, humour, and, where necessary - as in "Friend of ours" - a tribute to a recently departed companion, pathos.

"Seldom seen kid" is a pivotal moment for Elbow: with this superb collection they’ve moved from being contenders to being a band that can sit at the top table.

 Anthony Morrissey

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