One member down, can Ramsbottom’s perennial masters of musing and melancholy keep time or miss a beat?
It’s easy to exacerbate the tiny cracks in a musical collective when one member decides that it is time to go, particularly when the collective creative has been collectively successful for nearly twenty years. So it was when Richard Jupp, tub-thumper with Elbow, called time on his association with the band that have, over the years, quietly and comfortably epitomised all that is subtle, unassuming and brilliant about great British songwriting in the last decade.
But fear not, for as ‘Little Fictions’ bears out in its deep and rich splendour, all is well in the good ship Elbow. In fact, this collection of songs may well be their best ever. And that is not because of Jupp’s departure. But the band were clearly pushed in directions that maybe they would not have ventured down had they not been a man short in the rhythm department. ‘Little Fictions’ owes a lot to drum loops and programs as well as fine sticksmanship provided by Alex Reeves throughout.
This is born out quite beautifully on ‘Trust The Sun’, a track whose chord progressions are reminiscent of those that used to flow so freely from the fingers of Kate Bush or, more recently, Steven Wilson, to the relentless rhythmic patterns employed in ‘Gentle Storm’, the promo for which is a delightful nod to a milestone pop video of yore, particularly as it includes the creator of said classic. Oh, and it has Benedict Cumberbatch in it too.
Opening track ‘Magnificent’ is an almost brazen self-proclamation of this long player’s quality, Garvey’s voice as endearing and mellifluous as it has ever been, throughout, his lyrics clever and intriguing as always.
I find that most Elbow albums have a distinct nod to Prog, and ‘Little Fictions’ is no exception. It’s subtle and nuanced, but there is clear influence from the likes of Peter Gabriel in their songwriting. I would love to see them tackle a 20 minute sonic epic akin to those early Genesis offerings on albums like ‘Selling England By The Pound’, ‘Nursery Cryme’ or ‘Foxtrot’. I digress, but will leave this here in case the boys catch sight of this and feel inspired. They almost aspire to this anyway on the title track here, clocking in at nearly eight and a half minutes.
Good use of choirs and strings are supplied by, as usual, the Hallé Orchestra and choirs, in the main, giving the album strong Mancunian roots, something not at all unfamiliar with Elbow’s work. The album does have a stripped back feel though, as if the loss of a man has caused the remainder to contemplate their weakened stature and withdraw to lick their wounds. I don’t know the circumstances behind Jupp’s departure, but the final sentence of the liner notes reveals that gratitude is owed and the bond still strong.
It is often said that Elbow’s albums are like large, snug blankets, delivered warm and cosy and served with a smooth red wine and scented candles. Something to rely on when feeling contemplative or at odds with the world, faithfully reassuring, uplifting and in tune with ones emotions. And I guess this is true in many ways. I know that I will always feel better after listening to them, no matter what my mood. But to pigeon hole them like that is to overlook the deeply skilled song-smithery and musicianship that lie at the core of this band. ‘Little Fictions’ is another triumph in their career that seems more cohesive and balanced than their last LP, which was no slouch in this author’s opinion. There is an air of complex simplicity here, a back-to-basics quality but always striving to ensure we remain aware of the complexities that lay beneath the surface. That, for me, is the sign of a classic album. Being able to combine instant listenability with a rich depth that slowly reveals itself on each repeat listen is the hallmark of a band or artist that is both comfortable with their skills and a master of their art.
Rejoice in new Elbow, for they are kings amongst men. There are massive truths behind these little fictions. The perfect catholicon for our uncertain times.