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Elbow – [Album]

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Thursday, 29 May 2008

An ‘elbow’, other than the obvious physiological definition, is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a sharp bend in a road or river; or a length of pipe with a sharp bend in it.” It is, in effect, a location where a conduit unexpectedly arcs away from its assumed destination – a definition that suits the band Elbow’s new record, The Seldom Seen Kid, to a proverbial ‘T’.

Bred and spread from the UK, it’s impossible to miss Elbow’s background as, from the moment singer Guy Garvey opens his mouth on the album’s opener, “Starlings”, he invokes a host of influences ranging from the emotionally articulate croon of Morrissey to the hoarse and breathless sigh of Psychedelic Furs singer Richard Butler. It would be easy for the band to approach the Brit-pop spectrum from that vantage point and, to be fair, they do continue on that course with “The Bones Of You” but after that song recedes, Elbow immediately arcs a hard left into recognizable, but surprising, regions.

While the instrumentation and song craft from the very beginning does indeed imply the sensation of sitting in a grand and tranquil white waiting room where listeners expect the band to begin painting the walls myriad colours with an expansive sonic palette, they simply do not. Instead they sit and stare at those walls and imagine the possibilities for their pristine, virgin canvas but don’t actually taint that surface with any indelible marks. While there is a monstrous guitar hook set in “Grounds For Divorce”, even that is muted and vacuum-sealed within its remarkably urbane and chilly confines as the band observes the presence of it as if to say, “What a curious thing,” but they don’t actually release it from its display case for a bit of air.

That reservation is actually the guiding principal for The Seldom Seen Kid: each of the album’s eleven tracks presents that virgin canvas that listeners expect to have marked up with bold colours made by a strong hand as they watch and listen. It doesn’t happen though – the most that Elbow leaves is a faded water-colour (as with “Grounds For Divorce” and “The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver”) that would be easy enough to alter or erase completely. Yet, even so, it is a compelling listen; by presenting several salubrious possibilities but not actually committing to any of them, Elbow hooks listeners by inviting them to imagine the possibilities along with them.

For more information, check out http://www.elbow.co.uk and/or http://www.myspace.com/elbowmusic

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