It’s unfortunate that the cover art for Elbow’s seventh album reflects the cartoonish sci-fi aesthetic of 2016 video game No Man’s Sky, a near-endless virtual universe of 18 quintillion planets that many gamers found to be a repetitive and dreary façade of stratospheric enormity. Some feel the same way about Elbow and, lacking any glorious unifying anthems like ‘One Day Like This’ and, um, all of Elbow’s other glorious unifying anthems, they won’t find anything to change their minds in ‘Little Fictions’. A stylistic handbrake turn this is not; they’re still
Doves with narcolepsy.
There’s much to love, though, for those who find Elbow’s lethargic northern atmospherics as warm and comforting as the morning’s fourth whisky. Marking a return to communal writing around an open fire in Scotland, ‘Little Fictions’ is a 13-tog duvet of a record, freed from Guy Garvey’s relationship upheavals that informed 2014’s ‘The Take Off And Landing Of Everything’ and his 2015 solo album ‘Courting The Squall’, and out to find some joy and romance in a darkening world. It’s there in the uplifting gospel and Afrobeat splashes, in the somnolent cowbell rave of ‘Gentle Storm’ and in the gorgeous Velvet Underground lollops of ‘All Disco’ and ‘Kindling’, both the sound of ‘Venus In Furs’ high on Radox. And it’s there in first single ‘Magnificent (She Says)’, a stirring, string-swaddled vision of a young girl playing happily on a beach, a portrait of parental pride and childhood hope in the face of Hurricane Boris.
Not that ‘Little Fictions’ completely glosses over the terrors and challenges of 2017, like ramming a pillow over your ears at a Trump press conference. The electronic hula of ‘K2’ has Garvey sing-rapping about Britain’s blind plunge towards an increasingly s**t-brown Brexit “full of blood, snot and teeth and the glory of no one”. He attacks the partisan press and “the villains at the tiller” who “gambled the farm on a headline” and considers going to live in a caravan in the Andes. That this, and the routine desperation of a spluttering relationship described in a whirlwind of backward violins on the eight-minute title track, sound as reassuring as a slightly experimental shipping forecast will merely maintain Elbow’s standing as the musical prescription tranquilliser you’re either deeply addicted to or find too mild for your narcotic tastes.
If you’re chasing the initial buzz, ‘Little Fictions’ is quite a hit.