Procol Harum

the Pale 

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A Procol Harum fan's recommendation

Elizabeth Bryson on Elbow

Majestic ... enigmatic ... occasional spare musical arrangements, occasionally quite exuberant ... always melodic ... Procol Harum – oh, yes! No question those words fit right in with the music and words of Procol Harum. But for the last ten or so years there has been another band whose songs and musical arrangements could be described in a similar way, and that is Elbow. They are a Mancunian band [from Manchester, UK] of outstanding talent formed around 1990 (with the name 'Mr Soft'). They eventually changed their name in 1997 to Elbow (according to Wikipedia, the change was inspired by a line in the BBC TV drama The Singing Detective where the character Philip Marlow describes “elbow” as the loveliest word in the English language.”).

Much like U2 or REM the lead singer (Guy Garvey) writes most of the lyrics and the entire band contributes to the music. Guy Garvey’s words at times can resemble Keith Reid's words in that they can be quite evocative and frequently offer a unique turn of phrase. There are many good examples – this being one of them, from the title song of their 2005 album, Leaders Of the Free World:  “…But the leaders of the free world are just little boys throwing stones and it’s easy to ignore till they’re knocking on the door of your homes…”  and Keith Reid’s words from As Strong As Samson “Ain’t no use in preachers preaching when they don’t know what they’re teaching, the weakest man be strong as Samson when you’re being held to ransom.”  Garvey and Reid can be as enigmatic as they can be direct, and are quite adroit at doing both. "... I am a die hard with an empty dance card propping up a young bar.." from Charge is also very Keith Reid, I think! Melodically, Elbow also has much to offer, from plaintive, patient melodies to anthemic and rousing ones – surely something fans of the music of Procol Harum and Gary Brooker would appreciate. For those not familiar with this band, please grab an album or two and hold on as it will most certainly be a very spirited and musical ride for you!

Asleep in the Back (2001) and Cast of  Thousands (2003) were there first two albums, which are overall spare in arrangements and spare lyrically, but certainly contain shades of richer words and music to come. Having said that, both of those albums, though quite enigmatic, are also quite accessible musically and lyrically. With the release of Leaders of the Free World (2005) and The Seldom Seen Kid (2008) Elbow stepped triumphantly forward with more wonderful, descriptive and emotive lyrics and majestic and moving melodies … The Seldom Seen Kid in particular contains a wealth of brilliant songs – One Day Like This being one of them (which is, if they must have one, their signature song). Other standouts on that album also include, Grounds For Divorce, The Loneliness of  A Tower Crane Driver (with literally a crane/mechanical rhythm that eventually glides into a heavenly and glorious musical resurrection) and Some Riot.

Brilliance abounds in these songs lyrically  and musically.  It was in 2011 that Elbow released Build a Rocket Boys. This album was the one that started steering off into more symphonic arrangements in conjunction with bass, keyboards, guitars and drums. It starts off with the song, The Birds – just over eight minutes of musical heaven. This album is a continuation of their inclination towards brilliant melodic and harmonic counterpoint with highly enchanting words. Lippy Kids (with its very cheeky ‘simian stroll’ line) was a single from this album and a mesmerising song that captures a moment of youth in a very direct, melodic and plaintive manner

Elbow’s most recent release is The Take Off and Landing of Everything. This album continues much in the same way as Build A Rocket Boys musically and lyrically. However, the lyrical themes are very much focused on Guy Garvey’s year in Brooklyn, New York and his break-up with a long-time girlfriend. The music continues to be rich in melody and counterpoint choruses. All very lovely and magical … Much as with Procol Harum, listeners will find much to enjoy in the diversity of Elbow in their music and words, but also in the passion and honesty in which the songs are delivered.

Guy Garvey has one of the most pure and beautiful voices in Rock music today – and an incredible lung capacity to sustain notes brilliantly. Again, to use a Procol Harum comparison, he has a wonderfully passionate voice, much like Gary Brooker (if not in timbre, then in delivery) that rings true with every word that he sings with no pretentiousness whatsoever. It is all very heartfelt and that comes through loud and clear with every song.  

Elbow’s music can be found on almost any music website on the internet. For those wondering which albums to start off with, I would strongly suggest The Seldom Seen Kid, Build A Rocket Boys and/or The Take Off and Landing of Everything. None will disappoint and all will most likely leave you wanting to hear more.

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It’s been a pleasure writing about this most wonderful and unique band. If you venture into their music, hope very much that you will enjoy it as much as I have!

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