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Elbow - Giants Of All Sizes (Album Review)

Thursday, 17 October 2019 Written by Simon Ramsay

We’re currently living through a time that’s as mystifying as it is terrifying.  Can any artist adequately convey that, and where would they begin? With the current state of our world leaders, or a certain referendum result and the ensuing madness? Possibly the devastation caused by unfathomable tragedies and senseless acts of terrorism? Fearlessly addressing those issues and more, Elbow’s ‘Giants Of All Sizes’ is a scalding state of the nation address and a prayer for a society that’s seemingly teetering on the brink of destruction.

The fact that these earnest romantics have returned with a largely desolate record underscored by death, loss and unrest reinforces just how dire these straits are. Described by frontman Guy Garvey as “an angry, old, blue lament” that aims to “prick this bubble of dissatisfaction you see everywhere”, the Mancunian band’s eighth album is unmistakably Elbow without sounding quite like anything they’ve done before.

Abandoning their usual painstaking creative process in favour of a more instinctive approach, the music here was allowed to go where it needed to in a way that suits the subject perfectly.

After tragedy strikes we invariably analyse what’s transpired and try to process it, but our reactions are always at their most pure and honest in the heat of the moment. Such immediacy courses through every element of this powerfully expressive album.

Dexter & Sinister writhes in a hurricane of suffering and doubt, its leviathan-sized riff juxtaposed against jarring orchestral stabs and mournful piano. Weaving around Garvey’s repeated motif of “I don’t know Jesus anymore”, the tortured epic drifts into the ether on an angelic coda that’s vintage Pink Floyd. 

Elsewhere, Seven Veils dismisses a lover to the seas with wry Enya flourishes under its dead-eyed chorus, and Empire’s funereal vibe is captured by tremoring organs, desperate harmonies and dazed and confused lyrical babbling. The Delayed 3:15, meanwhile, seethes at the brutal indifference of people on a train who’ve had their journey held up by a death on the tracks.  Garvey’s chillingly matter of fact poetry combines with onomatopoeic guitars and Ennio Morricone-styled orchestration for an ominous and heart wrenching listen.  

Each cinematic track is layered with evocative instrumental textures and outstanding percussive strokes that serve as a seamless extension of Garvey’s emotions, something that’s particularly true of the record’s most explosive and thought-provoking moment. 

White Noise White Heat reveals how the Grenfell Tower fire, and the shameful political response that followed, broke something inside the frontman: “But who am I, some Blarney Mantovani with a lullaby when the sky’s falling in, I believe I’m giving in.” Its existential crisis is punctuated by slabs of industrial noise to create a gripping fusion of nihilistic musing and volcanic release.

For all the deserved plaudits, it’s slightly disappointing the band chose to find salvation during the album’s final third. On Deronda Road and Weightless delicately find slivers of hope without cheapening what’s preceded them, but had the intense, downbeat focus of the record’s astonishing first half been sustained it would have elevated a great album into a brave, bold and uncompromising masterpiece.

Some may have found that too much to bear, but ‘Giants Of All Sizes’ is far from depressing and envelops us in a much needed comfort blanket of shared understanding, offering an arm around the shoulder when we need it most. Blarney Mantovani?  Hardly.

Elbow Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat March 28 2020 - DUBLIN 3Arena
Sun March 29 2020 - BELFAST Waterfront Hall Auditorium
Tue March 31 2020 - LIVERPOOL Liverpool Olympia
Wed April 01 2020 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Fri April 03 2020 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Sat April 04 2020 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Mon April 06 2020 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Tue April 07 2020 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Wed April 08 2020 - HULL Bonus Arena, Hull
Fri April 10 2020 - EDINBURGH Usher Hall
Sat April 11 2020 - EDINBURGH Usher Hall
Mon April 13 2020 - GLASGOW O2 Academy Glasgow
Tue April 14 2020 - GLASGOW O2 Academy Glasgow
Thu April 16 2020 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 Academy Newcastle
Fri April 17 2020 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 Academy Newcastle
Sat April 18 2020 - CARDIFF Motorpoint Arena Cardiff
Mon April 20 2020 - PLYMOUTH Plymouth Pavilions
Tue April 21 2020 - PORTSMOUTH Portsmouth Guildhall
Thu April 23 2020 - LEICESTER De Montfort Hall
Fri April 24 2020 - BRIGHTON Centre
Sat April 25 2020 - BOURNEMOUTH BIC
Mon April 27 2020 - LONDON Eventim Apollo
Tue April 28 2020 - LONDON Eventim Apollo
Wed April 29 2020 - LONDON Eventim Apollo

Click here to compare & buy Elbow Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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