Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow

The Seldom Seen Kid

Fiction Records.

SCQ Rating: 56%

I own every Elbow album but I don't know how it happens. Each time I read about an imminent Elbow recording, a metronome act that occurs every three years, I feel compelled to read any upcoming details out of some posthumous respect. At some point, the band that once had me reveling in such intermittently brilliant releases like Asleep in the Back and Cast of Thousands became predictable, passe even, to the point where I believed myself to have grown beyond their blend of sorry Britrock and prog flourishes. So then why do I own 2005's Leaders of the Free World? And now The Seldom Seen Kid? As time, critics and myself have proven, Guy Garvey and the Elbow crew don't get the respect they deserve, often considered "the drinking man's Coldplay" when much of their discography is brilliantly unique. Yet with each approaching release, I've found myself doubting them still. Leaders of the Free World was a brash guitar record and a worthy entry into SCQ's Best Records of 2005. The Seldom Seen Kid, however, might be my Id's long-awaited 'I told you so'.

Having proven that they can create epic prog-rock, still-life melancholy and bar-room rockers with each respective album, it's almost self-explanatory why Elbow, despite many incredible moments, have never made an addictively listenable record, front to back. The Seldom Seen Kid sees an attempt to reign these marginalized strengths into one conducive whole, and early buzz claimed, like all Elbow records before it, that this was their masterpiece.

Better keep on trying. The Seldom Seen Kid still boasts the off-kilter arrangements and lovely harmonies that make an Elbow album such, but lacking the dark undercurrent that infected Asleep in the Back's tone, the wide-eyed romance of Cast of Thousands, and the bite of Leaders of the Free World, Elbow have castrated nearly every hook they possess. Take 'The Bones of You', a semi-love song without any longing or interest, or 'On a Day Like This', which featuring a Gershwin-borrowed orchestra and rides that sap all the way to the six and a half minute mark! For a band as well-versed in mid-tempo rock as Elbow is, The Seldom Seen Kid is plodding; dull songs embellished to disguise themselves and, worse, uninteresting lyrics. Yes, Guy Garvey, the man I once claimed could graffiti any of his lyrics on a wall and it would look amazing, has faltered several times over here (when "Holy cow, I love your eyes" is the heavily repeated chorus of your record's first single, I suggest going on hiatus).

As always, there are highlights but unlike before, where we were treated to unnervingly beautiful moments, here they merely hold our attention. 'Weather to Fly' proves that Elbow have maintained some of their ambient touch from Cast of Thousands, while 'An Audience with the Pope', despite being about nothing of grand interest, is perfectly arranged and classic Elbow, from the tip-toeing piano lines to Garvey's weathered croon. Best of all is 'Grounds for Divorce', which is the name of a drink Garvey created, and stands to be the only track that inspires energetic response with its soccer-ready vocal chants and vicious guitar work.

Until 2011, when the next Elbow album will likely fall into my lap somehow, I trust the boys will wrestle back from what I consider to be their first low point. The Seldom Seen Kid contains enough potential that it could've been great had someone else arranged and performed it, but I'm not about to start giving Elbow any excuses. Mid-tempo, sorrow-filled Brit-rock is their territory; let's not pretend they aren't capable of it.

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