An Elbow Mixtape


Tapes had two sides, both 45 minutes long. You had that long to say what you needed to say and then it was time to move on. We’re bringing that challenge back. 45 minutes to convince someone why they should like a certain band, artist, genre, or era.

One of the kings of the Manchester music scene over the last nearly 20 years, here’s my list of the very best of Elbow, in case you’ve never heard of them (and yes, I am judging you if so).

Looking back over Elbow’s long discography, “Powder Blue” seems the kind of unusual thing a band still settling on their direction might make, because it’s a quite painfully sad narrative. The track about a failing relationship is very poignant, but still has some of the typical (and wonderful) Elbow traits, like soaring vocals and beautiful piano-led melody. It was the first track that I found really compelling from the band.

This is perhaps the first Elbow track to be given the full, long, magnificent build to euphoria that you’d expect from a song about (the drummer’s) first born child. At over seven minutes, it’s very ambitious for even a deep cut on a first album. The hysteria of the ending (and then is brick wall cut out) is just overwhelming.

Ribcage is a song where Guy Garvey could begin an album with his growing talent for harmony. The melody, the drums, the guitar’s vibrato are all fascinating, but they are left behind by Garvey’s remarkable, pitch-perfect voice over the choir they have so perfectly arranged.

By this point I think Elbow truly understood they were onto something really powerful – a joy like few other bands, and an antithesis to many other band’s dour musical direction in the period. The ending, where the crowd at Glastonbury collectively shout that they “still believe in love, so fuck you” said so much in so amusing an expression.

Built around a single electric piano pulse, Lippy Kids is one of the high points of Elbow’s playful respect for childrens’ potential and hopes. As a parent of one kid who fits this bill, I always loved this track.

It can’t be an accident that this track mirrors the title of the cult 50s short story (and then film), “The loneliness of the long distance runner”. Garvey picks up well that this story is a quintessentially Northern one, and that’s always been a big (and fantastic) element of Elbow’s aesthetic. It’s also got the massive drum sound they often achieve, to carry the song along.

The juxtaposition of high romance with prosaic details like the bus the lovers are on is so clever in this track. It’s characteristically witty and moving in turns, and sums up a lot of what I love about Elbow as a result.

Not all Elbow songs are massive and majestic. Puncture Repair is a track which demonstrates that they can sound intimate along with delicate. A tiny end for the Leaders of the free world album is a calming gesture around some of the busier tracks earlier in the album.

Garvey is a master storyteller about relationships, but in particular about the maturity of long-term relationships. This track’s two parts are both very interesting, but the second (Lunette) includes such a beautiful image of one partner observing another. It’s incredibly touching:

But there isn’t words yet for the comfort I get/
From the gentle lunette at the top of the nape of the neck that I wake to/
And where are the words for the leap in my chest/
When mischief appears either side of the scar on your nose/
Made by a rose thorn, so you claim/
By a rose thorn.

What an image.

“My sad captains” is a massive song all round – amazing vocals and soaring trumpets sitting within the building sounds of piano, guitar and those perfectly recorded drums. Yet another high point in the band’s long list of them.

Honourable mention: PICKY BUGGER – A song title that was almost the name of our site!

So there it is – my favorites, among many other great tracks. What are your favorites? Where am I off track? Are you insane enough to not like some of these songs? Let us know.


Words by Nick Parker.

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