Elbow

The Seldom Seen Kid

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In a world where even the generally mediocre likes of Snow Patrol can have honest to goodness mainstream pop success, it seems peculiar that Elbow have never broken through beyond a devoted cult following. (Admittedly, the fact that their new labels, Polygram's alt rock imprint Fiction Records in the U.K. and Geffen in the U.S., are their fourth and fifth, respectively, after stints on Island, EMI, and V2, may have a lot to do with their lack of mainstream attention.) Exploring the fruitful middle ground between early Radiohead's mopey art rock and Coldplay's radio-friendly dumbing down of the same, Elbow makes records built on a balance of things not often found together anymore: strange musical textures alongside immediately accessible pop song choruses, or unexpected left turns in song structure paired with frontman Guy Garvey's warm, piercing vocals. It's no surprise that Elbow are regularly compared to old-school prog rockers like Pink Floyd and Electric Light Orchestra: they're proof that records can be cool and commercial at the same time, an idea that's not particularly hip in this day and age. Yet a song like "Grounds for Divorce," which puts a sharp, wryly funny Garvey lyric against a clanging, Tom Waits-like arrangement and throws on one of the album's catchiest tunes for good measure, or "Some Riot," which filters a yearning, lovely melody for guitar and piano through so many layers of effects and processing that it can be hard to tell what the original instruments sounded like, isn't afraid to display its accessibility even on its most experimental numbers. At the album's best, including the spacious, atmospheric balladry of the opening "Starlings" (imagine if Sigur Rós could write a pop song as emotionally direct as Keane's "Everybody's Changing") and the potential radio breakthroughs of the soaring, semi-orchestral epic "One Day Like This" (complete with choral climax!) and the wistful "Weather to Fly," The Seldom Seen Kid is Elbow's most self-assured and enjoyable album so far. [The U.K. version added "We're Away" as a bonus track.]

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