For a band as stately as Elbow, it seems that they could do little wrong. Unfortunately, the past few years have seen Elbow go from a gorgeous, understated rock band influenced by equal parts Talk Talk and Radiohead to a band that seems to have their only hope in touring and playing festivals till they drop. All has not been lost on the band to the fans’ delight. They seem to have found their source of light again on their new album Little Fictions.
Beginning with a song that sounds as curious as anything from their first album, we’re thrown into a dramatic landscape full of political misgivings, lost lovers, and (you guessed it!) mountain climbing. “Magnificent (She Says)” draws us in with its infinitely wandering bass line, forming the foundation underneath the strings that sway over the top of the geographically laid out composition; for an opener, Elbow sound magnificent once again. Bucking the classic one-two punch opening, they fall down on “Gentle Storm” into a minimal, eye-of-the-storm brew. It never rises nor falls in tempo or volume, lead singer Guy Harvey lining the shore with his rising and falling tide-pool vocals. The song gently (no pun intended) sways into the mysterious “Trust the Sun”, outlining a gorgeous krautrock-influenced construction with a little Mark Hollis piano sprinkled in; this can only bode well for a band that has always been at the fringe of both post-rock and alternative rock for adult contemporary listeners.
If you’re looking for more upbeat or happy songs, you’re in luck: the fourth song, “All Disco” (humorously having nothing to do with disco and everything to do with the frontman of the Pixies), brings the sunrise with it. Harvey is in full force on this cut, carving spiraling staircase vocals all the way to the sky. The song builds ever-so-subtly during the course of its 4:28 run time. “Disco” must certainly be where the fun starts, but if you’re guilty of thinking that, you’re under arrest. The album charts its way back down to the quiet moments on the next track, “Head for Supplies”, which is definitely a highlight for me. I think it’s important to mention that at this point, it should be apparent that the album isn’t exactly the fastest, most punk album ever. It’s slow and thoughtful like a best friend giving you advice for something big; it certainly doesn’t rush and definitely takes it’s time, or I don’t think that it would be a very good album. Elbow have always been the masters of keeping things interesting at a low tempo and volume.
Following on of the quietest songs on the album is the extremely groovy “Firebrand & Angel”. I wouldn’t ever have expected myself to admit that Elbow are influenced by classic Motown, but here I am hearing Harvey delightfully sound like Marvin Gaye (kind of, but not really; you get the gist). Keeping up with the motorik theme, we slip into the great album highlight “K2”, surely inspired by the mountain that the song shares a name with. The bass marches ever upward while Harvey sings (about Brexit, obviously) into a delay-saturated microphone about “arrests” and “God [sending] us to a digital end”. For a band who concerns itself with world politics (see 2005’s Leaders of the Free World), they certainly haven’t done it in such a stunning way like this. After the politics must come love and loss, exemplified by none other than the best song on the album, “Montparnasse”, where Harvey croons softly about “memories of you”. This song is a true stunner, bringing quiet dignity to an album concerned with restoring a band’s failing credibility. We’re not kept on the dial for long—the disc moves into more steadily moving territory with Little Fictions, a song about the human experience in all of its imperfections, describing how we “protect our little fictions”. The song slowly builds until we come to an epic sky-building, pedal-drowned guitar solo from Elbow guitarist Mark Potter.
Elbow have always been a band that musically evaluates the delicate human relationships we all take part in across the entire spectrum of time. In example, their frontman basically wrote the lyrics to their last album, 2014’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything, about his divorce and the period afterwards where you reevaluate your life and friends and loves either for the better or worse. On Little Fictions, it’s here where all of their work comes in full focus on the final song of the album, “Kindling”. The last two lines of lyrics sum it all up ever-so-perfectly with a line about a common human moment: “Then my telephone shakes into life and I see your name/And the wheat fields explode into gold either side of the train”. For Elbow, it was always going to end in love, no matter where they ended up.