Capsule Review: Little Fictions – Elbow

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This piece was originally published by Audioxide in February 2017. My pal André has this neat little website where he and two of his friends contribute to a review of one record each week, and he asked me to lend a hand when one of the regular team members was away. I was looking to get back into writing criticism after about over a year out owning to various physical and mental blocks, so this was a great opportunity for me to pull my finger out. Working with André and Andrew was wonderful and I even got asked back to contribute a few times, which was nice. Shame about the album, though.

Little Fictions is the sound of contentedness. It’s pleasant. It’s gentle. It’s unassuming. Sometimes, it even threatens to be rather gorgeous. Most of the time, though, it’s barely there. It’s the product of being middle-aged and comfortable and having nothing to say. It’s deciding to rest on an idea or a groove that simply isn’t strong enough to sustain an entire song. It’s doing that seven times over, on a ten-track record. It’s the creeping realisation that, once you’ve heard the first minute of a song, you’ve likely heard the whole thing. It’s asking the listener “What does it prove if you die for a tune?” It’s asking yourself ‘Bloody hell, is this song still going?” It’s dying for a tune. It’s perking up when you hear “Firebrand & Angel” because the band finds the audacity to develop a song, and they do it well. It’s settling back down when “K2” starts, because audacity was obviously in short supply. It’s wondering whether the vocal melody towards the end of “K2” consciously evokes Magical Trevor, and whether that would make it any more interesting. It doesn’t. It’s leaving ambition and curiosity at the door, because who even cares when you’re the foremost ‘proper nice chaps’ of British music? It is, in other words, nothing you haven’t heard before, and everything you’d expect from Elbow’s post-Seldom Seen Kid material. But then again, it’s also largely bereft of atmosphere, drama, and playfulness, which, even at their most rote, Elbow could usually conjure. It’s sorely lacking a “Some Riot”, or a “Neat Little Rows”, or a “Charge”. Perhaps, then, it’s what you imagined Elbow to be, rather than what they actually were before Little Fictions. It’s inessential, verging on parody. It’s a record that’ll soon enough be forgotten. It’s a cardigan and slippers. It’s proudly making the BBC Radio 2 playlist. It’s a Sunday slot at Glastonbury, when the sun’s setting. It’s press photos on a beach. It’s fine, typed in italics and said with a sigh. Which is all just a polite way of saying it’s really, really fucking boring.

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