Giants Of All Sizes

Elbow

Polydor, 2019

http://www.elbow.co.uk/

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/11/2020

Elbow is many things at once: arty and hooky; serious and witty; deliberate and unpredictable; enigmatic and vulnerable. Truly, they contain multitudes.

At least that’s what it feels like here and now, after taking a number of weeks and listens to absorb the subtleties of the British art-rock quartet’s characteristically intricate and understated eighth studio album Giants Of All Sizes. Never a band to shout when a whisper will do, Elbow mesmerizes the listener with a fluid charisma equally possessed by lead voice Guy Garvey and bandmates Craig Potter (keyboards), Mark Potter (guitars) and Pete Turner (bass), joined once again here by session drummer Alex Reeves.

Giants Of All Sizes opens big and bold with the seven-minute post-rock mini-epic “Dexter & Sinister,” whose steadily evolving arrangement blossoms from an orchestral ramp-up into a fat, thumping synth hook, with restless percussion clattering along underneath as the group moves from this foundational motif to airy verses and then back to the hook, which ends up functioning as the song’s wordless, angular chorus. When Gardner’s elliptical lyric about disillusionment runs out of words around 4:15, the group delivers a captivating 2:45 outro with rippling, jazzy jamming and urgent sound-painting guest vocals by Jesca Hoop.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The rest of the album is only marginally less ambitious in its sonic vision, which, it must be said, owes much to Peter Gabriel’s solo work. The alternately airy and densely layered arrangements, the adventurous rhythmic sensibilities, the willful setting aside of conventional song structures, even Gardner’s crisp-yet-langorous phrasing and soaring falsetto feel deeply familiar at times. Ultimately, though, Elbow sound only like themselves while making music that Gardner has described as “prog without the solos.”

Still, the fact that instrumental flash isn’t part of their musical vocabulary shouldn’t obscure the skill that goes into crafting songs as distinctive as the elegant, sensuous “Seven Veils,” the thrumming, painterly “The Delayed 3:15,” the chunky, surging “White Noise, White Heat,” and the spare, haunting, oh-so-timely “Empires” (“Empires crumble all the time”).  

The second half only gets more determinedly Elbow. Larger on the inside than its 3:02 run time would suggest, “Doldrums” is a wordy yet impressionistic piece that feels like they borrowed a deep track from Sgt. Pepper’s and turned it inside out and upside down. Then Gardner turns into a full-throated romantic for “My Trouble,” a love ballad whose string arrangement accentuates the heartache and longing at its core. Which in turn serves as the band’s cue to get weird again, as “On Deronda Road” shimmers and rattles into view, matching classically-inflected acoustic guitar with looming synths washes and ticketty-tacketty electronic percussion as Gardner and a nine-man chorus trade rounds of a single sharply-drawn verse. Closer “Weightless” delivers brighter tones, with a circular melodic hook anchoring another inscrutable but undeniably evocative lyric.

If much of the album feels a step down from its superb opening number, Giants Of All Sizes nonetheless marks another very strong outing for Elbow. Here again, the dichotomies and seeming contradictions of the band’s approach—grand yet modest, calm yet dramatic, deeply familiar yet distinctly original—fold together into a singular, flowing approach that creates an immersive sonic and melodic world all its own.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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