Craig arrives with a kickflip of his hoverboard.
Pete sparks the cobbles with his halting palomino.
Mark arrived by lightning bolt with the cry ‘PARATUS!’
Alex ‘ NewBoy’ Reeves  is carried in by  the local Bacchus faithful to a chant none can distinguish. Naked but for a grape cluster.
As a man of the people.
I take public transport.

The band strike up…

(Guy Garvey Jan 2024)

It’s fair to say that Guy Garvey is in triumphant mood. The lead singer, lyricist, and most recognisable member of the BRIT and Mercury Award winning, arena filling, Mancunian musical institution (as they must surely now be regarded) that is elbow is on a high following the completion of the band’s landmark tenth studio album.

Titled ‘AUDIO VERTIGO’ as a possible wry comment on the very lack of discomfort around its writing and recording, (he’s not telling), and newly dressed in a psychedelic inspired design that marks it out visually from its nine predecessors, the album is a host of news for a band now well into a third decade of making music together yet bucking convention (as they have always seemed to) by finding the process more fun and less taxing with each release. Such ease is reflected by Guy’s opening thought on the record, breaking the convention that says you don’t give up your influences that easily:

“Pete’s just had the symbol from the cover of Duran Duran’s “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” tattooed on his forearm in the same place as Mark has his AC / DC lightning strike.
Like Mark said, “We’re literally wearing our influences on our sleeve.”

The willingness, even the desire, to not take this all too seriously emanates from Guy. He is, of course, fiercely proud of the record he and his ‘best mates’, (including one-time live drummer Alex Reeves, now a key part of the creative process), have made but he no longer feels the pressure to be ‘something’. Which, with a band like elbow, crammed with musical loves and creative energy, has meant this record is very much a handbrake off moment.

“We referenced The Meters, Beastie Boys, Sly and Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Arctics, Queens of the Stone Age, Bolan, Tom Waits, Public Enemy and Alison Moyet and that’s just the opening song.”

So ‘AUDIO VERTIGO’ differs in vibe from recent elbow albums. There’s a back alley, pool hall, Lou Reed swagger to many of the tracks. Heavy on stomp, swing and infectious oil-can funk beats, the rhythmic backbone that powers the album was created by producer and keyboardist Craig Potter working with drummer Alex Reeves. Guitarist Mark Potter’s knack for deploying both John Squire style riffs and John Martyn level delicacy decorates the tracks whilst bass player Pete Turner’s subtle playing underpins it all with flourishes of Afrobeat melody showcasing his continued inventiveness. The sense of freedom and fun pervades across the tracks.

‘AUDIO VERTIGO’ is still recognisably elbow, long term fans will hear moods and shapes from the band’s long career, but the old and new are delivered with a confidence and urgency that reflects the mood in the camp.

“We are restless.” Guy explains There’s a lot wrong with the country and the world. But we decided not to reflect but to distract. The frustrations are there but it’s all channelled. Generally, we had a blast making it because the lads are at the height of their collective evil musical genius. AND they’re actually getting funnier! We found these grooves playing together in little garagey rooms again. Gnarly, seedy grooves that pulled some very dark memories and humour from me.

As a lyricist I could choose to open the “despair of the whole world” box or eke my fears and anger out in these weird, wry, jagged exaggerated stories.  Love, obsession, sex, drugs, betrayal, maniacal delusion to Arthur Baker inspired afro-electro funk. Riddle me that! It’s a good job I have a very eventful life to draw on; and it gets pretty dark sometimes. No-one wants songs about my verdant bean tree.”  

What that means to the listener is the latest elbow album to throw up lines and phrases that catch the ear, from the throwaway ‘There’s no cocaine in this cocaine’ of ‘The Picture’ to the profound ‘All that breathes is a chorus of peace tonight’ in the middle of ‘Her to the Earth’, “the strangest piece of music the lads have ever put in front of me” in Guy’s estimation. The words of musical fragment ‘Embers of Day’ read like a four-line poem while ‘Knife Fight’ is a rare (for Guy) literal retelling of his ringside seat for a knife fight in Istanbul. ‘AUDIO VERTIGO’ may be the first elbow album to defy an overall mood in its ceaseless desire to create and the album demonstrates a thirst for life, joy, and connection that moves across its tracks.

If there is a constant, it is that enduring belief in the power of love, family, friendship, and community to overcome everything and an unwillingness to let the darkness win. Guy may well note “we live in a troubling age” in ‘Her to the Earth’ but the album closes with the instruction to his son to “Bring us home something beautiful, son” in one of elbow’s most uplifting tracks, framed in a loose disco beat that is at once both surprising and completely apt for an album of such invention and ambition.

Ten albums in twenty-two years.

It could feel like the end of something. Instead, it feels like an opening chapter.