Elbow’s latest record, Little Fictions, is steady, content, and at times uplifting. It carries a sense of warmth and comfort that makes it completely fitting for a peaceful Sunday morning. The instrumentals take strides at an extremely measured pace, and Guy Garvey’s vocals float placidly in a collection of already serene set of mixes. It’s another Elbow album, basically.
For those out there who find the band’s harmless brand of alternative rock dull or dreary (of which there are quite a few), there is unfortunately very little on Little Fictions to sway them. Opening track “Magnificent (She Says)” is, appropriately enough, rather magnificent, but also functions as a double-edged sword. It is undoubtedly the standout song from the entire record, initiating a tone of both positivity and dynamism with its lively percussion and sumptuous string arrangements. It’s their finest song since the Seldom Seen Kid era, and we don’t hear anything like it again for the entirety of the record. It’s something of a smoke screen. “Gentle Storm” is a far better representation of Little Fictions; one of several tracks that are arranged around a single groove and grow tiresome after a severe lack of development. It’s often pleasant, but rarely exciting.
A conversation between the band is heard during the records final moments: ‘we can get a loop out of it’, one member declares. It’s a nice touch, adding a human quality to the albums conclusion, but it’s also a demonstration of the approach that Elbow took to making the record. An abundance of locked grooves, and, well, not much else really. Little portions of pleasantness that will likely please long-time fans, but bore the rest of us.
6 out of 10
Little Fictions is the sound of contentedness. It’s pleasant. It’s gentle. It’s unassuming. Sometimes, it even threatens to be rather gorgeous. Most of the time, though, it’s barely there. It’s the product of being middle-aged and comfortable and having nothing to say. It’s deciding to rest on an idea or a groove that simply isn’t strong enough to sustain an entire song. It’s doing that seven times over, on a ten-track record. It’s the creeping realisation that, once you’ve heard the first minute of a song, you’ve likely heard the whole thing. It’s asking the listener ‘What does it prove if you die for a tune?’. It’s asking yourself ‘Bloody hell, is this song still going?’. It’s dying for a tune. It’s perking up when you hear “Firebrand & Angel” because the band had the audacity to develop a song, and do it well. It’s settling back down when “K2” starts, because audacity was obviously in short supply. It’s wondering whether the vocal melody towards the end of “K2” consciously evokes Magical Trevor, and whether that would make it any more interesting. It doesn’t. It’s leaving ambition and curiosity at the door, because who cares when you’re the foremost ‘proper nice chaps’ of British music? It is, in other words, nothing you haven’t heard before, and everything you’d expect from Elbow’s post-Seldom Seen Kid work. But then again, it’s also largely bereft of atmosphere, drama, and playfulness, which, even at their most rote, Elbow could usually conjure. It’s sorely lacking a “Some Riot”, or a “Neat Little Rows”, or a “Charge”. Perhaps, then, it’s what you imagined Elbow to be, rather than what they actually were before Little Fictions. It’s inessential, verging on parody. It’s a record that’ll soon enough be forgotten. It’s a cardigan and slippers. It’s proudly making the BBC Radio 2 playlist. It’s a Sunday slot at Glastonbury, when the sun’s setting. It’s press photos on a beach. It’s fine, typed in italics and said with a sigh. Which is just a polite way of saying it’s really, really fucking boring.
5 out of 10
This was my first experience of an Elbow album and I desperately wanted to love it. Between Guy Garvey’s distinctive vocals and the anthemic, diverse instrumentation across their previous output, and the latest single, “Magnificent (She Says)”, Little Fictions had the makings of a big, lush album to start the year. Unfortunately, I can’t fawn over it to that extent. Little Fictions isn’t bad by any stretch, but it suffers from a mixture of tracks that don’t pack the punch to leave a lasting impression.
The songs often fixate on a single idea without progressing any further with it. This isn’t immediately obvious either, with the opener and lead single featuring the lush instrumentation and song development that I was hoping for, but as “Gentle Storm” follows it, issues begin to emerge. Taking a minimalist, airy approach, “Gentle Storm” sets out to contrast the opener nicely, opening the stage for the buttery vocal line, but having shown its hand from the outset, the remaining three minutes are left without anything else to offer.
The same can be applied to a disappointing majority of the tracklist. The band clearly focused on finding a smooth, chilled groove to start a song and solely sticking with it, with the hope that Garvey’s vocals will be strong enough to keep the track fresh. To make matters worse, several tracks have been left baggy around the edges, with “Trust the Sun” being an example of one of the genuinely interesting tracks that still sits on its groove for a whole minute before introducing vocals. “K2” is another point of note, mixing smooth lounge music and vocals with a cavernous delay together, resulting in a five minute track that I’m still not sold on.
I think my disappointment is clear, but that’s not to say this is a terrible album. The highlights of Little Fictions, which includes the penultimate title track, are truly enticing and well developed tracks that are great to listen to, and I wish that the album had more. In the album’s dying moments, the band are discussing the recording: ‘there was a few bars that sounded good there, you could get a loop out of that’ – is it too harsh to guess that this was the general writing process?
6 out of 10