Throughout their almost three-decade career Elbow have encountered many challenging and potentially catastrophic events that would result in their premature extinction. The most recent event was drummer Richard Jupp’s departure just before Elbow began work on their last LP Little Fictions.
Elbow were always a five-piece and Jupp had been with the band for twenty-five years! Nonetheless, Little Fictions saw the band go off boldly in a new direction with a softer, piano-based sound with a significantly reduced emphasis on the guitar and bass as well as Radiohead influences. For example “All Disco” was impressive because of its folky, hippy and troubadour spiritual elements as well as philosophical and perplexing lyrics: Come to the river Sun. Let your obsession go. Gone to the river Sun. What does it prove if you die for a tune? It’s really all disco.
Giants of all Sizes is the antithesis of its predecessor. Across nine songs we see a return to raw, distinguished and distorted guitar sounds. We see the best and continued relevance of their debut Asleep in the Back as well as The Seldom Seen Kid. There is also a significant amount of experimentation with processed and electronic beats which can be ascribed as an ode to Thom Yorke’s Amina but is also a sign of a band excavating, developing and evolving their unique and distinguished sound. Whilst this is album number eight; the passion, hunger and energy rivals their former early efforts.
Seven-minute long “Dexter & Sinister” kicks this LP off with innocent and sanguine classical piano before exploding with booming bass guitar resembling a song influenced by, but more complex and developed than “Grounds for Divorce”. “Dexter & Sinister” is also captivatingly haunting lyrically: Come back to the light. Come pull on the bullwhip around my heart. Take me to the sea. Let me peel and fade by the seaside. Where dead men go to die. And long-standing affairs fizzle in the brine. And everybody stares with Eastwood eyes at the horizon. Likewise “White Noise White Heat” sounds anything but ghostly with trumpets, an orchestra, choir and distorted guitar solos whilst Guy Garvey positively tests the limits of his vocal capacity.
“Seven Veils” follows opener “Dexter & Sinister” taking this LP in a more sombre and sanguine direction whilst maintaining an instant and captivating beat. The distorted sounds are immediate on “Empires” via the organ. A song recognisable with Elbow’s accustomed sound, but definitely not banal or tasting of offal. “The Delayed 3:15” is also positively ubiquitous of Elbow’s signature sound. “Doldrums” is chilled whilst impressing with psychedelic glory. The psychedelia evaporates leaving tranquil strings of peace on the following track ironically called “My Trouble”.
“On Deronda Road”, the penultimate track, Elbow move into unchartered territory making ample use of synthetic instruments and electronic beats. This approach was immensely successful as Elbow retained their identity and the end result is a cacophonous beauty that can only be ascribed to them. Giants of all Sizes plays out with “Weightlessness”, a piano-based yet adrenaline-filled anthem.
Giants of all Sizes is proof that after eight LP’s and the loss of a long-standing key member of their band that Elbow is still able to innovate, draw the best of their established sound without falling into the trap of reinventing the wheel or plagiarising the sound of their last LP. Using Little Fictions as a template (as glorious as it is and continues to be) for Giants of all Sizes would have resulted in Elbow not producing electronically innovative tracks such as “On Deronda Road” or unleashing the beast of heavy guitars on tracks such as “Dexter & Sinister”.