23. Elbow – Asleep In The Back

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Our first Christmas. Sat in a little cottage, beside a roaring log fire in a cold but beautiful part of West Wales, the good lady hands me a CD as one of my presents. This is long before the days when it has been acknowledged that buying me music is a risky business as I’ll probably have already bought it by the time it’s actually given to me, and I have absolutely no idea what will be inside the wrapping paper. As it slowly emerges, I recognise the blue cover and note the ‘Mercury Music Prize nominee’ sticker on the case. While it wasn’t top of my ‘must have’ list, I am pleasantly surprised by this choice and rather impressed by the good lady’s judgement.

23 Elbow

My early listens were largely positive, although I found it a little heavy going at points. My musical reference points weren’t quite what they are now and I didn’t have the setup to do it true sonic justice but, even with all of this needless negativity, I still realised quickly that there were a number of beautiful songs on this lengthy album. When the album’s title track was released as a single – it wasn’t originally on the album, later reissues from 2002 onwards had it added in – I dutifully picked it up as I wasn’t going to buy myself a new copy of the album just to have that song added in. But, what a song. The swirling opening of acoustic guitar and piano is majestic and the way the drums don’t so much enter as just happen to be there where previously they weren’t – it is one of their most musically simple but effective pieces to date.

The mantra-like feel to ‘Any Day Now’ has since become one of my favourite album openers while genuinely arresting songs like ‘Powder Blue’, ‘Red’ and ‘Newborn’ have lost none of their charm. It’s a remarkably powerful debut record and, as is so often the case when a band has had some time to perfect their initial offering, there is little sign of filler material.

The album comes to a close with ‘Scattered Black And Whites’, a beautiful track which I’m not sure I properly appreciated until it cropped up in the latter stages of a gig of theirs I attended in Leeds last year. Something about the mood it left across the room was suitably special and I soon dug it our for further investigation. The musical backdrop, with its distant backing vocals and pitter-pattering drums, is as homely as the lyrics themselves, talking of how Guy Garvey’s “sister buzzes through the room leaving perfume in the air”.

The recently issue deluxe edition is highly recommended and a link to purchase is embedded in the picture above as this one’s not on Spotify. But, whichever version you end up with, turn it up loud. It never sounds to loud, almost like it doesn’t have the capacity to disturb, only to soothe.

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