It's probably a stretch to suggest that an album that is only two years old, peaked at #5 on the UK charts, and won the coveted Mercury Prize in England was overlooked. Additionally, the band also won Best British Group at the 2009 Brit Awards and two 2009 Ivor Novello Awards, but all of these accolades were from across the Atlantic. In the States, Elbow's fourth release The Seldom Seen Kid, their first with Geffen, only topped out at #109 on the US Billboard Top 200 Albums chart. So, for the US at least, this is one album that got away - from the masses at least. And that is really too bad because it is a work of great musical maturity and elegance.
From the outset, the opening track Starlings sets the mood with a mix of hush and fury. Like the rest of the album, it has a musical tension that is dramatic but not overwrought. Vocalist Guy Garvey immediately conjures up thoughts of Peter Gabriel. It’s not surprising that Gabriel has covered the epic Mirrorball on his new album of covers Scratch My Back.
Songs like The Bones of You and The Fix sound strangely both comfortable yet daring. In some ways after just a couple listens, The Seldom Seen Kid feels like a record you listened to years ago, a record that you know well from your youth and one that holds its own unique niche in your musical psyche. Sounds a little vague, doesn't it.
Well, the odd thing about the record is that it didin't immediately resonate as something I’d really like. It’s more like, you hear it and realize there’s something going on here that I'd like to get to the bottom of. This isn't a record for listeners who solely listen to simple and predictable music made for hit radio. Yes, Grounds For Divorce, is pretty immediately hummable and a little uncharacteristically fast-paced compared to the rest of the record. It's even been played on US TV shows. But songs like Weather to Fly and Friend of Ours are less radio-friendly. Like most of the album, they are songs much more appropriate for introspection and reflection than for commercialization.
The record has an odd dichotomy of being cinematic yet personal. These are songs that would be equally effective in a film as they would on a long car trip. The perfect example of this and arguably the highlight of the album is One Day Like This. Beautiful and stirring, this is a hopeful and celebratory song that would work with closing credits of a feel good movie or inside your own head on a spring day. For some, the record may be too quiet. At times the instrumentation is both sparse and intricate. It may be too quiet of an album for some. But one thing is for certain about this record, little is left up to chance. It is woven with great care. Oh, and there was no way 108 albums were better than The Seldom Seen Kid it in the US in 2008. Good thing mainstream chart success seldom seems to bear any relation to quality these days.