Sunday, 16 March 2014

Elbow Sound Better in The North

Elbow make music for mornings. 'One Day Like This' begins with Guy drinking in the morning sun, 'New York Morning' - lead single from new album The Takeoff and Landing of Everything - is, well, about the morning, and even the track that follows it, 'Real Life (Angel)', has a "hallelujah morning". Listing to the album whilst searching through the sun-drenched city for breakfast, then walking to the station full of toast and eggs, it was clear that - even more than mornings - Elbow make music for Manchester.

The band's mournful but optimistic tone mirrors this city: much to be proud of, yet often displaying a preference for self-deprecating humour and quiet ambition over shout-it-from-the-rooftops boastfulness (with the obvious exceptions of Oasis and Manchester City FC - linked by both support and arrogance). Elbow are a much better fit for Manchester's psyche - not that they don't like to shout things from the rooftops, it's just that when they do they shout things like 'one day like this a year will see me right', which seems really to suggest that every other day is likely to be rubbish.

The new album does have rooftop moments, particularly 'New York Morning', 'Charge' and the brilliant instrumental part in the middle of 'Fly Boy Blue / Lunette', but mostly retains the intimacy that has always been a hallmark of the band's output. Given the bombast of their Olympics-closing performance, it wouldn't be surprising if they started producing music that only really worked in mega-stadiums, a well-trodden path most recently swaggered down by Coldplay. Instead, they have kept the voice of the old drunk in the corner of a Northern Quarter bar.

This voice pipes up after 'New York Morning' - around the halfway point - as if they had to get the epic stuff out of the way. The tracks that follow, 'Real Life (Angel)' and 'Honey Sun', share a Postal Service-like insistency, with the latter leaping into a playful chorus like someone bursting into laughter in the middle of telling a story. The highlight, though, is 'My Sad Captains', a pean to the moments in the small hours when a night is coming to a close. The part sad, part contented, and all nostalgic feel of this song came as the train back to London made the red brick and concrete South Manchester suburbs roll into the Pennines. Elbow might name songs after American cities and make music to close international sporting events, but, for me, their sunrises will always throw light on to Piccadilly Gardens.

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