Elbow: “The Seldom Seen Kid”

As promised, the judges' prevarications over the Uncut Music Award shortlist continue today. Here's what they said about the Elbow record. Monday, I'll post the Drive-By Truckers discussions.

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As promised, the judges’ prevarications over the Uncut Music Award shortlist continue today. Here’s what they said about the Elbow record. Monday, I’ll post the Drive-By Truckers discussions.

Tony Wadsworth: Elbow’s my favourite. I tried to be more interesting than that, because they seem to be winning everybody’s album of the year, so I had to keep asking myself the question “is it really?”. The reason it’s my favourite, I think, is because it actually ticks more boxes than any of the others, but important boxes. Emotionally, I find it moving. I think it’s a completely modern record, which I can’t say the same for a lot of the other very good records on the shortlist. I think it’s a real 21st Century record. I think it’s got brilliant production, it’s got phenomenal songwriting, it’s got really serious and moving songs, and it’s got really funny songs. It’s got dynamics. It’s made in the north-west of England, which can’t be bad. I just think it brings together some really fine influences but makes something that is genuinely modern and doesn’t feel like it’s looking back in any way. It feels like a really good heartfelt set of statements, and ultimately I find it emotionally moving. I suppose that’s what you want from a record, really.


Allan Jones: What did you find so moving about it?

Tony: I don’t know, some of the lyrics I suppose. This idea of male friendship was one thing that came from it, which is not something that people talk about too sensitively. You know, heterosexual male friendship.

Danny Kelly: Let’s be clear!


Tony: I’ve seen these lads I don’t want to misconstrue anything! No, because male friendship tends to be laddishness, and this isn’t that. This is real, beautiful emotions between long-term friends. That’s the other thing I like about it, the fact that this is a band that have been together for a long time in the same line-up, and obviously still feel very inspired by each other. They spark despite a music business relationship they’ve had which has been chaotic, and nevertheless have managed to get to where they’ve got. That’s their backstory for me, which I find positive as well. It’s a great shiny 21st century record, but it’s got emotion running through it as well, and I think that’s a rarity.

Alison Howe: I like Elbow, but I don’t love them, and I feel like I’m in the minority this year. I know the album’s good, but it doesn’t do huge amounts for me. They’re a band I like, and I’m always pleased when they’ve got a new record out and I always look forward to hearing it, but I just don’t have that moment where my heart goes. I think a lot of the songs on it are great, and I think Guy [Garvey] is a great frontman. He helps deliver the songs, particularly live. I think they’re always so much better live than they are on record. I think they’re quite a male group, they appeal to men. I agree with what Tony said, they appeal to men and maybe that’s half the problem.

Mark Radcliffe: A lot of women fancy Guy at the moment. I don’t quite understand it, with good-looking guys like me, Danny and Tony around.

Alison: He’s a nice bloke, they’re all great, and I love that they’ve had such a great year, because they’ve grafted and the music industry hasn’t, at times, been kind to them. So, I like all that about Elbow and I want to really love their records but I don’t, I can’t explain it. I love the feeling you get when you hear a record for the first time, which is why I think I really like the Bon Iver record, and I find it hard to be loyal to a lot of groups because I’m quite fickle. I like new things, all the time. I like the Elbow record, but it’s not my favourite.

Allan: I must agree to a certain extent, despite Tony’s very eloquent endorsement of it, which made it sound a much more interesting record than the record itself says. But it’s probably my least favourite on the shortlist, I find it very hard going. Danny said that when he was listening to Bon Iver he was thinking “get on with it”, and that’s what I felt here, all the way up to probably the last three or four tracks. It’s very hard to love in the way that I was totally engaged by the Bon Iver record, say. It’s very impressive, but somehow it failed to stun me or really move me. But I do agree that live, at Latitude, they really did bring those songs to life, but it’s still a bit…

Mark: I have to declare an interest, in that they’re mates of mine and the manager lives in the next street to me, and if Elbow are playing he picks me up and takes me there.

Danny: He’ll soon be moving, seeing as this record’s been so successful.

Mark: I also ought to tell you that he’s not expecting to win, because he thinks that having won the Mercury Prize it means that they won’t win this. I don’t think it’s the best Elbow album. I love Elbow, I think there are three fantastic songs on this: “Grounds For Divorce”, that would awaken you out of a torpor, that monster riff; “One Day Like This” is probably one of the songs of the year, it’s an anthem that’s been everywhere; and “The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver”, the one they did at the Mercurys, was astonishing that night.

But I think the album is short of killer songs. I think Tony’s right in that it’s very current. It’s a facet of getting to 50, in my case, where everything sounds a bit like something, but Elbow doesn’t. Guy sounds a bit like Peter Gabriel at times, but I think he’s a fabulous singer and a really engaging personality. There’s an awful lot going for them, and they are friends of mine, but it’s coming in probably at about Number Three, for me.

I think there’s such goodwill towards Elbow, because they’re such lovely people and everybody’s so happy that they won the Mercury, so happy with the success they’ve had, they’ve made friends everywhere they’ve gone, but I think the reviews have perhaps been one star kind. I think Asleep In The Back, their first album, is choc-full of fabulous songs and I don’t think this is. It’s full of fabulous sounds, and the production is great, Craig [Potter] the keyboard player did it in their own studio. If you knew them you would love them, but for me it’s…

Danny: I don’t think Mark should apologise for hearing everything in everything else. One of the joys of liking music over a long period of time, I think, is you can actually enjoying hearing where these people are coming from, even when they don’t know it themselves. Last year when The View’s LP came out I thought, well, I’ve heard every note of this before but I really wished I was 17 again so that I could hear it for the first time. It’s all good.

I can’t claim to have ever been a huge fan of Elbow, everything Tony says about the record is exactly right, and Mark. There’s some lovely strange noises on it, and the record is restless at times when you expect it to go straight into a 4/4 time. It is out of a certain genre that British music has got itself into now, but every time you expect it to head for the stadium it doesn’t, and I liked all that about it.

There are some brilliant and lovely things about it, I liked the opening track “Starlings” a great deal. I do think having the word “confessional” in your opening lyric is a little bit of a statement of intent, and I don’t get the same emotional engagement that Tony got from the record. Since we’re playing the “who does it sound like?” game, the rhythms of some of the words reminded me of no-one less than Pete Sinfield, who used to write for King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer! Which is a great thing – not a bad thing, that’s a great thing, in my book.

Mark’s right about “One Day Like This”, when I saw them playing that on TV from one of the festivals people were going crazy. Ultimately, I agree with Allan. It’s a kind of music that I don’t personally get that engaged by and often find very dull. I wrote down what I thought was a compliment, but now when I see the words “not dull but dignified” written in front of me I’m not sure whether that’s a great recommendation for a record.

What I will say is that I love the way he sings in a north-western accent. That can sound incredibly like you’re doing it because you don’t want to sound like somebody else. It reminded me of when you hear strange American twangs or Caribbean twangs how beautiful it can sometimes be because it’s just not the way you speak. I’ve never noticed it very much in British bands, but Guy really does, it’s beautiful the way he enunciates the words.

Of course, “Grounds For Divorce” is an amazing song, it’s like they’ve taken everything that was done in the ‘80s in studios in Germany, London and Chicago and gone “there it is”. That’s how this record could sound, that’s how big it could be. There’s one of the examples where you do need speakers the size of wardrobes so you can go “Whoa, listen to that!”. But I have to say that it’s not anywhere near being my favourite. Allan rather cruelly put it at the bottom of these eight, and I’d probably go with that as well. I know it’s won all the awards, but that’s not what we’re here to do, is it?

Linda Thompson: I don’t know what this says about my testosterone levels, but I really loved this record. To write great songs is, you know, beyond hard. I just thought it was great, it’s very wordy, I thought the lyrics were clever, I think Guy’s a really good singer, I like people singing in their normal accents. I wasn’t sentimental about them at all, I know they’ve probably been around for a long time, but to me they’ve only been around since yesterday. I really thought this was a great record. It did engage me, but as I was saying to Danny earlier the stuff I like is far away from folk music.

Allan: Were there any songs on it that you thought you might like a crack at covering?

Linda: Maybe. It’s hard, I haven’t written anything down. When you sent me these things I listened to them right at the beginning, so now I’ve forgotten them all! I loved the bonus track [“We’re Away”], because it sounded like a cabaret tune. I know it’s an awful word, but I think these guys are brave and unafraid. It’s interesting that Mark says they’re nice guys, because I work with a lot of musicians, and if there’s two piano players and one’s an absolute genius but the most horrible guy, and one’s really good but a lovely guy, I always go for them. I just felt they were really nice people, I loved their energy. I loved it, it was right up there for me.

Mark: The togetherness of them as a group is lovely to see, they don’t resent the attention that Guy gets at all. They love the fact that he takes all that off them, and there’s absolute harmony there.

Linda: Who writes the songs?

Mark: Well, Guy writes the words but there is a contribution from everybody. I think putting it bottom out of the eight is absurd, I mean it’s twice the record that half of this shortlist is to me, but it’s not my favourite.


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