Elbow frontman explores jazz, funk and soul on a careworn solo debut
Solo albums from singers in still-operational bands are the musical equivalent of emotional abuse. They say to their bandmates ‘I don’t need you like you need me’. They contain the unspoken threat that the singer might bugger off at any moment if a younger and better-looking career comes along. And they’re all about self-indulgence; in a suppressed love of blues, folk, experimental electronica or Moldavian flatulence jazz, in some deep personal anguish or in their desperate need to cover The Fall’s ‘I Am Kurious Oranj’ in full. They’re a musician slipping off their wedding ring, sidling up to a coy public and explaining how their band doesn’t understand them.
Guy Garvey’s solo debut follows the classic pattern – he’s off to play trad-based songs that “don’t fit the Elbow template” with his mates from I Am Kloot (bassist Pete Jobson) and The Whip (guitarist Nathan Sudders), don’t wait up. But as it reels out the old lines it proves quite the charmer. It delves into dusky Parisian jazz on the languorous ‘Electricity’, a duet with Jolie Holland that sounds like he’s fallen headfirst into a very sad Billie Holiday record. There are pleasingly askew attempts at strutting, sax-honking Blaxploitation funk in the form of ‘Harder Edges’ and ‘The Belly Of The Whale’, complete with a very wonky interlude of George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’. It even gives off comforting wafts of Elbow’s widescreen-indie wet dog smell on ‘Juggernaut’ and the pastoral title track to seduce anyone turning up hoping he might bung ‘One Day Like This’ on it out of sheer habit.
‘Courting…’’s most alluring moves, though, come with the brilliant junkyard blues bits; ‘Angela’s Eyes’ and ‘Yesterday’, where it sounds like Tom Waits scrubbing up for Jools Holland and Garvey spins Elmore Leonard lines like “the slow walk home in the evening chill has me feeling pretty virtuous/Until I see her, the flashing indicators of my favourite saboteur”. There’s a gentle poetic surrealism to Garvey’s emotional “pinball machine” where “the shadows are deep and the angles are keen” – the album was written while embarking on a new, long-distance mid-life relationship, and it oozes a tentative, careworn tenderness, twice bitten by love but drawn gingerly back to pet the pelt. It’s a turbulent squall he’s courting, but he’s going into it with curtains thrown wide.
Record label: Polydor
Release date: 30 Oct, 2015