Saturday, October 04, 2008

FEATURE No 13 - Elbow

In my teens and twenties I kept my finger keenly on the popular music pulse. Avidly pursuing and following up lines of enquiry, listening out all the time for new bands and directions that seemed worth chasing up. Sometimes I was in pursuit of what turned out to be a passing novelty, or a band that issued one great album then disappeared into obscurity i.e. Deaf School or Young Marble Giants. Some bands were so eccentric they'd never be hugely popular i.e. James Chance & the Contortions, or The Native Hipsters. The amount of money I've thrown away on duff albums over the years, in the pursuit of that rare, but beautiful gem, doesn't bare thinking about. But I've been immensely more enriched by this than having the money languishing in my bank account. I can't afford to be so profligate with my money these days, and anyway I am a good deal choosier. The majority of contemporary rock is either plastic, pastiche or a parody of talent - but then, whenever has it not been so? Even the truly vacuous has its own appeal, and consequently its own market. I can slum it, and boogie down with the rest of them. For me music has never been solely a form of escapism, its also been something that energised, enhanced and engaged me with life in a joyful way.

Most 'noughties' guitar bands have a knowing plagiarism, they add nothing new to the lexicon, and merely revamp other peoples past glories - usually U2's. With the advent of You Tube, you can save yourself so much money by hearing and seeing the band first. You can decide for yourself whether you like what they do, and whether they are worth buying or not. I researched the Ting Tings, Hot Chip and Vampire Weekend this way..... and now Elbow. I have to acknowledge that I knew very little about Elbow, until I saw them recently on Jonathan Ross. Then of course they went on to win the Mercury Prize 2008. Already on their fourth album 'The Seldom Seen Kid' I obviously had a bit of catching up to do. Their appeal lies in their melding of beautifully crafted melodies, delivered by the supremely gifted vocals of Guy Garvey, with a willingness to boldly experiment with musical textures. The rest of the band provide a really solid level of musicianship, which is at times quite awesome in the breadth of its accomplishments. The real clincher for me has been the videos, for which I believe they've usually engage a group called The Soup Collective. The example posted here, to the song 'Switching Off' is simply knock out, and so cool. Constructed around the largely unadorned idea of a lighthouse flashing, yet it adds to and embellishes the Elbow song immensely. Its visual strength is in the image being allowed to develop its own depth of connection, with some subtle adjustments and evolving changes, but mostly by just letting it be.

I'm going down to Fopp this weekend to see if I can pick up their back catalogue cheap. If I have any reservations about Elbow its that their predominantly mournful tone might not bear excessive repetition. Even I - Melancholy Man - can have too much of wallowing in despondency - especially if belongs to someone else.

No comments: