Elbow – Giants of All Sizes
A record defined by its darkness, Elbow's eighth album Giants of All Sizes is gritty, graceful and vital
It’s more than a decade since Elbow became one of the great success stories in the Mercury Prize’s history, with a record dedicated to a lately-departed friend. It has, outwardly at least, been pretty smooth sailing for them since. Two of their three subsequent albums have hit number one in the UK – The Take Off and Landing of Everything was only held off the summit upon its 2014 release by the superhuman grasp on the top spot of Adele’s 21 – and the platform that the Mercury win provided them has ensured that they’ve sold out a slew of arena tours over the same period. Even the sudden departure of long-time drummer Richard Jupp, just ahead of the sessions for 2017’s superb Little Fictions, was weathered stoically and productively.
It’s all the more surprising, then, that their eighth album should be one defined by its turbulence. The opening track on Giants of All Sizes, Dexter & Sinister, tackles what is as far as the band are concerned a historic changing of the Manchester guard. Two towering figures of the scene that made this group – Jan Oldenburg of the Night & Day Café and Scott Alexander of Big Hands – passed in quick succession last summer. 'And I haven't finished yet', an unusually belligerent Guy Garvey howls at the denouement. 'Loss is a part of a life this long'.
He’s on similarly stinging form on White Noise White Heat, easily the most aggressive moment on an Elbow record since the title track from Leaders of the Free World decried the Bush administration back in 2005. This time Garvey is bitterly reckoning with the government’s response – or lack thereof – to the Grenfell disaster.
Still, even as Garvey faces personal and political tumult head-on – Empires, too, nods to the loss not just of those old friends but of his father in 2018, whilst The Delayed 3:15 spins a bleak tale of suicide on the tracks near Euston – there is still room for the open-hearted poet of old. The achingly pretty On Deronda Road chronicles the simple, innocent pleasure of bus journeys through his adopted home of south London with his young son, and there’s irresistible warmth among the sadness on tender breakup song Seven Veils. Ever the intellectual, the track sees Garvey nod heavily to both the game of chess and Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.
All of which is to say that Giants of All Sizes follows in Little Fictions’ footsteps in feeling like the breaking of new ground for the band after a couple of albums spent spinning their wheels. Musically, it’s varied and adventurous; thematically, it sees the world’s present darkness and raises it hope. A vital record.
Listen to: Dexter & Sinister, White Noise White Heat, On Deronda Road