If 2005’s ‘Leaders Of The Free World’ was Elbow’s on-tour love letter to Manchester, this is the sound of them returning and re-evaluating their relationship with the city. Mancunians have a curiously tempestuous relationship with their hometown that renders them both partisan and pessimistic and it’s an emotional conflict that Guy Garvey wrestled with during the conception of this fourth Elbow record. It was a tumultuous two years that saw the band marooned without a record contract and dealing with the death of their friend Bryan Glancy, a local singer-songwriter and the ‘seldom seen kid’ of the album’s title.
“I’ve been working on a cocktail called grounds for divorce”, asserts Garvey of his hometown on the brilliant Zeppelin-ish lead single ‘Grounds For Divorce’ – and it’s this sense of emotional upheaval that permeates the entire album. A semi-comic duet with Richard Hawley (‘The Fix’) aside, it’s their darkest record in years – ‘Some Riot’, for example, is a return to the claustrophobia of 2001 debut ‘Asleep In The Back’ – but also one with euphoric peaks at every turn. Lush epics such as ‘Starlings’ and ‘Mirrorball’ dominate the landscape and none more so than ‘One Day Like This’ – a seven-minute gospel-tinged masterpiece built for a chorus of thousands at Glastonbury this summer.
‘The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver’ is the jaw-dropping centrepiece, however: a majestic orchestral lollop that details the pitfalls of success and which sounds like a dinosaur learning to ice-skate. Like almost everything here it’s an awe-inspiring labour of love that both soothes and swells the soul.In spite of the turmoil of its conception, ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ is a stunning record, a career-best from a band whose consistency has seldom been matched by any British indie band this decade.