They've been called "Radiohead
lite," "progressive rock without the solos" and "a better Coldplay than
Coldplay." None of these descriptions really does Elbow justice, and after
14 years as a band and their third strong album, "Leaders of the Free
World," the Manchester quintet deserves to be hailed for its own merits.
Vocalist Guy Garvey was 16
when the power of music first hooked him. "I heard Love's 'Forever Changes'
and it was just, 'Christ, you can do absolutely anything you want, and not
only that, but it doesn't have to make sense,'" he recalls. "I think
psychedelia is one of those areas of music where you grow something, see
where it goes and you're just flexing your imagination. A record can be
completely different every time you listen to it, if it's free and open
enough. It's about not worrying or getting boxed in -- if you start applying
formulas to music, then it becomes a business and that's no fun. You don't
find out anything about yourself."
Garvey formed Elbow in
college in the early '90s, recruiting drummer Richard Jupp, bassist Peter
Turner, organist Craig Potter and his brother Mark on guitar. The group
spent 1998 and 1999 writing its first album, "Asleep in the Back," a concept
effort inspired by the coming millennium, which Garvey compares to "The
Sophtware Slump" by the American band Grandaddy.
"We knew the millennium
hysteria that was building was going to amount to f--- all. I've got
government literature that was distributed about the millennium bug, cash
machines and computers were all going to shut down, people were waiting for
the apocalypse, and then nothing happened. Everyone was expecting something
positive or negative, and we just thought the feeling of disappointment was
going to be enormous, so we wrote about that."
Unfortunately, a series
of problems with Island and then EMI Records delayed the album's release in
England until 2001. It was nominated for the U.K.'s prestigious Mercury
Prize, but it didn't appear in the States until 2002. It garnered little
attention here, and the 2004 follow-up "Cast of Thousands" didn't fare much
better. But the band isn't complaining about its status as one of the best
British bands that few Americans have ever heard.
"It's worked out
beautifully," Garvey says. "We flew in under the radar in every country.
There was no hype, no massive upheaval or huge lifestyle change. There was
just a slow, growing appreciation for our music, which is perfect. If our
[first] album had taken off then, who knows where we'd be now?
"We've had the
opportunity to form lives alongside our careers. We concentrate on the
albums and take our time touring them. Enough people like it for us to have
a good living without it being stupid. Coldplay released their album just
after we were supposed to release our first one, and it went supernova for
them. They're nice guys, but Chris [Martin] is just such fodder to people:
Photographs of him and his wife are worth 10,000 pounds in this country!
It's ridiculous. It's like he's been cut off from everything that inspired
that first record, and he's expected to be the same normal bloke while being
a Hollywood celebrity.
"We've had none of
that," Garvey concludes. "I can still walk into my corner shop and nobody
knows who I am, then I can walk into a venue in South Bend, Ind. and there
are 200 people who know who I am! It's beautiful, and it means that I'll be
able to have kids and a family but also carry on doing what we enjoy."
Indeed, the band's
enthusiasm is palpable throughout the new album, which adds a harder edge to
the guitars while retaining the dreamy soundscapes of earlier efforts. The
group took its time making "Leaders of the Free World," recording in
"It was like, 'Let's
make this at home so we can go and have dinner with our families and see the
people we love everyday; let's make it regular hours and not eat, sleep and
live in the studio like we have done in the past.' The other factor I
discovered was that just to walk to work everyday inspired me. The song
'Station Approach' encapsulates the feeling of knowing that we're going to
be at home for a whole year, and it's no accident that the Potter brothers
had children within four weeks of each other."
But the album also finds
the band looking further abroad, especially on the title track, a searing
critique of the Bush administration.
"We don't want people to
think that they're going to get a bunch of guys on a soapbox ranting, but we
thought it was important enough to make a statement with the album title.
"'Leader of the Free World' is a title that George Bush has when he enters a
room, but it's absolutely ridiculous. Leader? Jesus Christ! Tyrant, bully --
whatever you want -- but not leader. The song is basically about the
frustrations of trying to live your life by the rules you've been brought up
to value -- do your thing without treading on anybody -- then one guy gets
to tread on everybody and divide communities throughout the world, and
nobody can do anything about it because he's the most powerful man in
history. It will not become apparent what a dark period in history we are in
until afterwards, but the world is in a f-----g winter."
REASONS FOR LIVING
In an effort to keep up
with the onslaught of worthy Do-It-Yourself releases from local bands, I'm
going to try to include more regular reviews beyond my quarterly (or
thereabouts) Local Band Roundups.
This week: the
hard-hitting, self-titled debut from a quartet called Viceroy.
Named for a Venetian
Gothic jazz-era hotel in Uptown, Viceroy is comprised of four veteran
scenesters, including guitarist Nick Miller, who holds an enviable day job
as a talent buyer with Jam Productions. Miller knows plenty about the life
of underground musicians, and during its best moments, Viceroy's
hard-rocking 10-song album is about nothing more than the joys and
aspirations of the gigging local band. Witness "Rock N Roll Poster," which
finds guitarist-vocalist Derek Ault paying tribute to the dreams portrayed
in the same over a crunching backdrop somewhere between stoner rock and the
more no-frills end of '80s metal. (Think Queens of the Stone Age meet Guns
"Rock 'n' roll poster /
It was a promise hangin' on the wall... Let's get it started!" Ault howls,
and any band that's ever covered Lakeview and Bucktown with a stack of
fliers and a bucket of wall-paper paste can surely relate. The band's Web
site, www.viceroyrocks.com, is a work in progress, but it will
presumably host more info about upcoming shows and how to buy the band's
disc soon, and Viceroy is a group to watch.