“Dizzyingly diverse, full of invention and humanity… if only more bands were willing to take such risks”: Elbow’s Audio Vertigo

Guy Garvey and his band of brothers dream harder, ensuring their 10th LP is special

Elbow - Audio Vertigo
(Image: © Vertigo)

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As Elbow frontman Guy Garvey and his band of brothers push the envelope on their dizzyingly diverse 10th album, there’s no mistaking the ambition afoot. The loping gait that propels Things I’ve Been Telling Myself For Years; the Fela Kuti-ish exoticism of Lover’s Leap; the progressive soul vibes of Her To The Earth – all of these signal a band vacating their comfort zone to dazzling effect.

Garvey’s poetic lyrics and emotive, warm-hug of a voice are the threads that bind, his unvarnished Mancunian vowels still pancake-flat. Even Knife Fight – a tale of a real-life skirmish he witnessed in Morocco – manages to sound welcoming and inclusive, its outro hook comprised of the joyful chant, ‘Hallelujah, buy us a pint!

Balu, meanwhile, is named after The Jungle Book’s affable cartoon bear, and was part inspired by the singer’s nephew, whose nickname is Balu. It’s no surprise that Garvey – something of a ursine character himself – finds palpable joy in the song’s energising lattice of fizzing synths.

Fascinatingly, Audio Vertigo also leaves in a couple of brief segue tracks, which offer fly-on-the-wall access to Elbow’s engine room. On (Where Is It?) we hear Garvey in human beatbox mode as he flags up different rhythms that might anchor its guitar riff – ‘Give it fat, wide wheels!’ he enthuses – while Embers Of Day is a chiming electric guitar-led evocation of day’s-end possibility, and is over in just 38 seconds.

Poker Face, too, is a brief, beautifully lopsided- sounding thing, its sticky groove seemingly documenting some of the more excessive nights of Garvey’s youth. ‘Cokey chokey one for the road,’ he sings.

Even as Garvey approaches national treasure status he seems self-aware and self-mocking

Thematically, the album also explores star-crossed lovers, toxic relationships, and the internet as an all-consuming black hole. Garvey is at his most incisive and articulate on the aforementioned Things I’ve Been Telling Myself For Years.

A song about procrastination, self-delusion and the protective bubble of fame, it includes the confession: ‘I haven’t paid for cabs or beers, or met a cunt in 20 years.’ But even as Garvey approaches national treasure status he seems self-aware and self-mocking enough to carry that weight.

Audio Vertigo is full of invention and humanity. Whether it can take its place in the nation’s hearts in the way One Day Like This did back in 2011 remains to be seen, but, like all the best acts, Elbow know they need to evolve, and Audio Vertigo sees them do so in great style.

Why channel such diversity, potentially shedding some of their less forward-thinking and adaptable fans? “Because it’s fun,” they say. If only more bands were willing to take such risks.

Audio Vertigo is on sale now via Polydor.

James McNair

James McNair grew up in East Kilbride, Scotland, lived and worked in London for 30 years, and now resides in Whitley Bay, where life is less glamorous, but also cheaper and more breathable. He has written for Classic Rock, Prog, Mojo, Q, Planet Rock, The Independent, The Idler, The Times, and The Telegraph, among other outlets. His first foray into print was a review of Yum Yum Thai restaurant in Stoke Newington, and in many ways it’s been downhill ever since. His favourite Prog bands are Focus and Pavlov’s Dog and he only ever sits down to write atop a Persian rug gifted to him by a former ELP roadie.