Album Reviews

Elbow – Audio Vertigo

(Polydor) UK release date: 22 March 2024

Feeling like the work of a brand new band yet also a throwback to their early days, is this Guy Garvey and co’s best album since The Seldom Seen Kid?

Elbow - Audio Vertigo Now on the 10th album of their career, Elbow are now pretty well established as one of this country’s most consistent bands. It’s been quite a journey for a band who were once dismissed as a bunch of Mancunian ‘nearly-men’, who 27 years after they formed, can pretty much claim ‘national treasure’ status.

Since their commercial breakthrough though, there’s been something of the critical snobbery directed at Guy Garvey’s men. The sheer ubiquity of their best known song, One Day Like This, means that they’re often filed alongside the likes of Coldplay and Keane: safe, boring easy listening music for ‘people who don’t really like music’.

It’s an opinion that’s impossibly ill-judged. For anyone who’s listened to more than one Elbow song knows that this is a band that have always delighted in sonic experimentation. Even going way back to their debut, Asleep In The Back, they’ve always had more in common with bands like Talk Talk and the more accessible moments of Radiohead.

Audio Vertigo almost leaps out of the speakers right from the opening track, Things I’ve Been Telling Myself For Years. There’s a weird, slightly off-kilter feel to it, with the emphasis on some clattering percussion, and some typically poetic Garvey lyrics: describing himself as “the dashboard hooligan of nodding self-deception” and musing that fame means that he hasn’t “paid for cab or beers, or met a cunt in 20 years”, over a strangely foreboding, synth-heavy melody. It’s quite the introduction.

Garvey has described Audio Vertigo as being build on “seedy, gnarly grooves” – it’s a fitting description for tracks like Lovers Leap which embraces a samba-style melody, bringing in squiggly horns and some skittering drums from Al Reeves. There’s a restless energy coursing though the track that spreads throughout the record. Balu is another highlight, a big gritty anthem featuring more clattering drums, a parping horn and a seemingly stream-of-consciousness delivery from Garvey, taking on Manhattan subway trains, the Prince album Sign O’ The Times and Meccano. It’s a song designed to be played loud.

This being an Elbow album of course, there’s a few wistful moments – maybe not anything as sky-scrapingly epic as tracks like My Sad Captains or Open Arms, but Very Heaven has that best of Northern sentimentality that Garvey’s so good at inked through it – “back then, everybody had a gob on ’em” he reminisces. The closing From The River also has a suitably anthemic edge to it, but Audio Vertigo feels more of a throwback to their early days. Good Blood Mexico City, for example, is one of the rockiest, things they’ve ever done, a big, fuzzy slice of guitar rock that explodes into a big burst of cathartic noise halfway through and never loses its momentum – the way that Garvey yelps “woo!” at the end feels like a man reborn.

Every album by Elbow feels like a bit of a reinvention, but Audio Vertigo genuinely feels like a brand new band. It’s their best album in years – maybe since The Seldom Seen Kid – and one of those records that will throw up new little surprises on each listen many months from now. Not only one of our most consistent bands, but also one of our most surprising – the national treasure status is well earned.

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More on Elbow
Elbow – Audio Vertigo
Elbow – Flying Dream 1
Elbow – Giants Of All Sizes
Elbow – Little Fictions
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