Tender renovation marked by the beauty of open spaces
Opening on a stifling 7-minute prog-rock euphonic, Elbow seriously smashes any measures of restraint to the ground with their 8th studio album, Giants of All Sizes. “Dexter and Sinister” is an incredibly busty start to what feels like some of the band’s most unleashed creativity since “One Day Like This,” and it’s the kind of liberty that comes from the restless influence they continue to have over British prog-rock.
“Dexter and Sinister” could easily be the contemporary sister to Talk Talk’s “Life’s What You Make It,” and it’s an interesting parallel to draw considering how dissimilar our current musical landscape is right now. The black manic riff that carries the track is a grungy kickoff, still, Elbow manages to span a wide stylistic delivery from that. It’s vivid in the vocal layering, in the spiky synthesizers, which make an unprecedented yet welcomed partner to the guitars, and above all else, in the final three minutes, as Elbow drive a fantasy of instrumentals, high flying vocals and choral melodies – invigorated accumulation all the way.
“Seven Veils” is another renovation, this time beautifully subtle, carried simply by Guy Garvey’s lyrical power. “There’s no roses in this garden/ no sun melting in the sea/ you live for the final dance/ take your seven veils and sail the seven seas.” Elbow has centralized the essence of Garvey’s voice, and pulled at it every bit, such that no melody is disparate and no rhythm is undone. “Empires” furthers the vocal standpoints of the record, as we start to understand the important role they play in the writing. It’s a style made famous by groups like Bon Iver, but Elbow has taken the style and given it a body to breathe with.
Though behind the beauty of this style, there’s a darker subtext. Elbow is not fading politically, and the social messages behind certain tracks cannot be overlooked. The band has still kept the music at the core of it all, but they’ve given it, however delicately so, a backbone of importance and opinion. It sees Garvey take aim at those who’s inaction was to blame for the Grenfell Tower fire in “White Noise White Heat.” He sings, “I was born with a trust/ that didn’t survive the white noise of the lies/ the white heat of injustice has taken my eyes.”
If anything, Garvey is feeling the world’s political vulnerability more so than ever before, as he asks, “but who am I?/ some Blarney Mantovani with a lullaby?” It’s a big question steeped by an even bigger longing, and these emotions come through strongly in the song writing. So much so that the entire record is chained to its own sensitivity, which can become a bit overwhelming. The rawness of Garvey’s voice, however striking it is, is relentless, such that it can only be had in small doses. Giants of All Sizes is not the kind of album you journey through from start to finish. It has a kind of wild nature to it that will only work once you let all your guards down. “On Deronda Road” is maybe the best example of this. There’s so much to unpack, such deliberate intimacy in the harmonies and the production that it’s easy to build a wall up against it. However, in the open spaces, we’re left to understand the record better. We’re left to see the overriding euphoria that Elbow has so successfully manifested. There’s so much of it that we don’t know what to do with it all, expect to throw it back into the music, and in doing so, we’ve come full circle. It’s the best possible experience a listener could ask for, and what may be lacking in structure or versatility, we find in the bigger sound. We find the magic in the various forms, and unexpected parallels, that Elbow have become – the tender restraint, the free experimentation, the unrivaled melodies, the apparent beauty, the softly spoken critiques, and more, too, the giants of all shapes and sizes.