On 2008's "The Seldom Seen Kid", a solemn Guy Garvey sings 'love you, mate', on "Friend of Ours" - a heart-rending tribute to his late friend, Bryan Glancy. "One Day Like This" reminds us how love can (weirdly) make us act like complete tools. On 2017's "Little Fictions", love has become a many-splendoured thing. Garvey has metamorphosed from Philip Larkin into Pop Larkin and his new, blissed-out incarnation sounds as contented and close to 'perfick' as it could possibly be.
Garvey's marriage to Rachael Sterling and the departure of drummer Richard Jupp have changed Elbow's dynamic. Jupp's absence led to a more experimental percussive approach, with more recorded loops, like the cowbell hypnosis of "Gentle Storm" or the antsy, excitable drums on "Trust the Sun", where Garvey avows, 'I just don't trust the sun to rise/ When I can't see your eyes'. "Magnificent (She Says)" is a widescreen cinematic Elbow anthem, with bass, drums and strings pattering out insistent rhythms, whilst Garvey narrates a young girl, 'throwing both her arms around the world', showing the childish innocence that we need to rediscover ourselves. Doves-like "All Disco" wryly sings of love and laughter at 105 as two 'perverted old-timers', promising 'I'll feed you one-liners'.
More familiarly grizzled fare is still filtered through love somehow. "K2" portrays a hectic Brexit Britain sh*tstorm and love is our anorak. After a silky lounge jazz opening, a dense shower of echoing vocals breaches the peace, shirtily bemoaning 'I'm from a land with an island status,/ Makes us think that everyone hates us', and savaging the 'villains on the tiller' who 'gambled the farm for a headline'. 'I'm squeezing my words like I'm icing a bomb' over shivery piano on "Montparnasse" and 'We protect out little fictions like it's all we are' on the title track recognises that we often argue most dangerously and disingenuously with those we love dearest. "Head for Supplies" is grateful for the salvation of love and, it seems, the advent of a mighty fine drinking companion.
Elbow's seventh album will act as a barometer, either of how in love you are, or of how cynical you've become. If phones, names, fields and trains don't have you welling up during the final track, "Kindling", then you're probably a little hollow inside. Those who prefer Guy Garvey losing his mind with his sad captains and devoting Monday to drinking to the seldom-seen kid will struggle to find the Mancunian Meldrew they crave here. His unashamed elation risks sounding naff, but it feels refreshingly honest. For let's face it, 'Man is a giddy thing.' Benedick from some Shakespeare play said that. I think he nicked it from Mumford and Sons.