These B-sides show off Guy's gang's other moods
When you really think about Elbow – and their omnipresence in our sports TV shows means that we have plenty of opportunity to do so – it’s really kind of odd how it has all ended up for them. ‘One Day Like This’, their big show-closer, the first song that TV producers go to when they want to communicate that something is Big, Impressive And Inspiring, is a declaration of love from one alcoholic to another as they start to hit the sauce before midday. Back of the net!
Given that one of their major recurring themes is that life is much more interesting, albeit not necessarily in a good way, with alcohol in it, and that they had a brand of beer named after their last album, it does seem a particularly perverse choice that the BBC commissioned them to write their Olympics theme tune. Particularly when the title of said tune, ‘First Steps’, calls to mind the procedural recovery process espoused by Alcoholics Anonymous – a sly joke from Guy Garvey, a man who seems more concerned with Gold Labels than gold medals, perhaps?
The fact remains that in the aftermath of the Olympics, Elbow have been afforded the privilege that confirms to any band that they are fully ensconced in the public bosom: the ceremonial serving of scrag-end and/or salmon mousse that is the B-sides collection. What rapidly becomes apparent as the Talk Talk-esque ‘Whisper Grass’ kicks off proceedings here is that anyone expecting various iterations of ‘One Day Like This (Unplugged)’ is going to be disappointed and more than a little baffled by what’s going on. As Garvey acknowledges, there is a strain of nocturnal lethargy that seems to run through Elbow’s flipsides, a gently shifting and freeform yin to their albums’ anthemic yang.
Given that they were the other sides to the aforementioned ‘One Day Like This’, the likes of ‘Every Bit The Little Girl’ (flip to the seven-inch) and the aptly titled ‘Lullaby’ (CD single) are almost comically sepulchral, mere whispers of songs, as if the band wanted a little peace and quiet after all those BLOODY STRINGS. It’s really only on ‘McGreggor’ that Garvey indulges himself a little ‘Grounds For Divorce’-style yap and roar, but even then it’s over a queasy, disorientating dub beat.
Given that this album spans nearly a decade of the band’s huge and peculiar journey, it’s odd that its somnolent air actually renders it slightly one-note, with only the stately waltz of ‘Lay Down Your Cross’ and the abrasive guitar string abuse of ‘The Long War Shuffle’ varying the mood to any great extent. But there’s nothing wrong with a gentle head massage after a hard night, as Guy Garvey, more than anyone else, would probably tell you.