Music, Audio, and Other Illnesses

The Ordinary Beauty of Elbow, Part Two

Issue 115

I had thought that the intervening time between Part One and Part Two of these pieces on the great Manchester band, Elbow, would bring about greater familiarity with their recent works, but despite much listening, I remain hung up on the their 2014 album The Take Off and Landing of Everything. Also, I’ve written myself into a corner – theirs is a kind of music in which nothing shouts at me, “You have to write about this!” and yet, I want to communicate some of what I find so compelling about the band. (If I were in it, I’d be very flattered.) I want to proclaim it as “no big deal” music, and in the regard, and while it is in fact no big deal, that in itself is a big deal. There’s nothing that leaps out, except everything – but also nothing.

What I mean to say is that no single thing in the music just has to make itself known to the listener – unlike, say, my fave band of all time, the Fabs. With the Beatles, millions of critics or otherwise have found so much to write about. And every element of most every album leaps out. Elbow are more like a really psychically-comfortable jacket in which you know you look so great in it you don’t have to think about it. It just is.

So, anyway, enough of this nonsense:


Antenna up and out into New York
Somewhere in all that talk is all the answers
And oh, my giddy aunt, New York can talk
It’s the modern Rome where folk are nice to Yoko

Oh my God, New York can talk
Somewhere in all that talk is all the answers
Everybody owns the great ideas
And it feels like there’s a big one ’round the corner

It’s melodic and anthemic. And I love the reference to “where folks are nice to Yoko.” (Maybe there’s just a certain kind of sentimental person who loves the love between Ono and Lennon – and that alone is enough.)

There seems to be a consensus view that The Take Off… is a darker album than the later Little Fictions or the recent Giants of All Sizes. I don’t hear it. Maybe it’s just my natural obtuseness for lyrics. Then again, there’s this, from “My Sad Captains”:

Another sunrise with my sad captains
With who I choose to lose my mind
And if it’s all we only pass this way but once
What a perfect waste of time

I can see how one might construe these lyrics as negative. But I hear them as very positive, and grown-up – words to live by.

The departure of founding drummer Richard Jupp after The Take Off and Landing of Everything seems to have left a small hole in the band, not quite made up for by Elbow hiring a completely able session drummer – a small hole, but a hole nonetheless. Their arrangements have gotten a touch more conservative, as if the sometimes-brilliant arrangements of the tunes on the albums with Jupp are his work. Which they might well be. If the drums on The Take Off… are like Chris Frantz on the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, the drums on the later albums are more like Phil Collins in mid-period Genesis. They’re not as broken-down, as elemental.

As to my increasingly confounded frustration with having to write about this music – well, it was my decision. I’m trying to communicate, using the most imperfect medium, my enthusiasm for something that exists in a perfect medium. Elbow perfectly encapsulate the problem, as if I’m having to dance about architecture. This is art-rock of the strongest kind that we now get in today’s music. (Not like Gentle Giant or Yes, but almost – just not about the art aspect; like the Beatles, it’s just who they are.) It could be the work of one man – nothing stands out, except all of it; all of it outstanding.


Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Drew de F Fawkes.

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