Giants of All Sizes

Giants of All Sizes

If Elbow’s 2017 album Little Fictions was a typically excellent expression of romance, solidarity, and hope, one track was a sharp feather stem poking through the security blanket. “K2” betrayed vivid anger and unease over Brexit. Two years later, with that particular political process lurching uncertainly on, the band has leaned further into the turbulence of the age. Giants of All Sizes contemplates war, the Grenfell tragedy, division, and poverty, fusing these themes with more personal concerns, including the passing of frontman Guy Garvey’s father and two of the group’s close friends. “Bewilderment feels like the zeitgeist,” Garvey tells Apple Music. “This album does have its uplifting moments, but it comes from a darker place. It’s got a big heart but asks some bewildered questions.” Recorded in Hamburg in a converted World War II bunker flanked by a border force headquarters and a Ugandan ministry, this album is Elbow at their most searching and bruised. “I think there’s more of an urgency to the record, as I think there is with this general sort of rudderlessness that everybody’s feeling,” says Garvey. “There’s this mixture of resignation and subdued panic, and the record’s shot through with it.” Discover more with Garvey’s track-by-track guide. Dexter & Sinister “Dexter and sinister, in heraldry, it’s the right and left side of the shield. Two very good friends of ours died close together, and they were very good friends with each other. Jan Oldenburg ran the Night and Day cafe in Manchester, which is where we got our first record deal, where we used to hang out. Scott Alexander owned [Manchester venues] Big Hands and The Temple. When I was thinking of them both being gone, I was imagining Manchester’s coat of arms with the unicorn and antelope missing. And also the references to left and right, the way the country is split at the moment—although I’m not sure it’s as simple as that. However you look at it, 50 percent of the country are unhappy and want to gamble the farm on any kind of change. I think that's more urgently something to look at than different people’s politics.” Seven Veils “A song about jealousy and love. I was reading Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair—the whole book is about how close love is to hate. As a portrait of London in wartime, there was a lot of things ringing: The way he talks about the V-2 rockets and the fear of them, it’s not unlike the rhetoric surrounding suicide bombers and terrorist attacks. I spoke to somebody who considers teenage girls a war generation: Nobody wants to stand out, nobody wants to establish themselves as different. That's the same in a controlled country or a country of war.” Empires “I read somewhere that horror and things about decay become more popular in an economic downturn. I knew adults who were really pondering what they would do [during a zombie invasion]. Something about it was really ominous: Why are we preparing for something that is obviously not going to happen? I realized it was something to do with the end of the world. My friend Tom, our tour manager, pointed out that for somebody the world ends every day. If your village is decimated by an earthquake, or the mine closes down and everybody is starving, or you’re caught in a famine, that is the end of your world. In relation to the Brexit scenario and how we’re all feeling, particularly if you're frightened of it, which I am, ‘Empires crumble all the time’ is saying the same thing.” The Delayed 3:15 “The working title was ‘Pram’ and it was one of [guitarist] Mark [Potter]’s songs. I deliberately decided to work on [the lyrics] on a train because it had that rhythm. And then this thing happened, this thing that happens every day [a man took his own life by stepping in front of the train]. In a weird way, I thought of this as an homage to this person who was sad enough to take their own life. I thought it was terribly sad that it became something to look at your watch and tut about, so I wanted to right that a little bit. And the bewildered question in this song is why he picked that spot. It was an unattractive bit of wasteland. It just proves that there was no cinema or poetry intended by the act, it was done somewhere that looked like the end of the world.” White Noise White Heat “It was a reaction to the Grenfell inquiry. The anger I felt, and how impotent my privileged, white, middle-class anger is where that scenario is concerned. I wouldn't dare try to speak for the survivors of Grenfell. My reaction was: This is so horrifying, I can't wait to get drunk. I realize this is becoming quite a popular thing, people looking for their high because nobody can stare what’s happening in the face. We’re living in a country that is cutting child services, not looking after its own. There isn’t a species of animal that doesn't look after its own. Why wouldn’t you want to get high, why wouldn't you want to get drunk? I enjoy the words for this one because they state the importance of being a songwriter in a really arrogant and flamboyant fashion. And then, in the second verse, it points out how thoroughly fucking useless it is in the big scheme of things.” Doldrums “I was in Vancouver while my wife [actor Rachael Stirling] was there filming. Vancouver is really beautiful—you can drive out into the sticks and camp and hike—but the reality of the downtown is crushing drug problems, three generations of really awful addiction that the police will scoop out of the way if you want to film something cheaply. It’s no different to any other growing city in terms of cranes on the skyline and empty condos that no one can afford. I saw a young woman walking down the street, and there were some old boys on the corner, doing the shuffle. She didn’t pause, she walked right through the middle of them and, without blinking, they got out of the way like an automatic door. In that moment, I was just, ‘How have we got to that?’ Vancouver gets it in the neck, but every Western city is to blame. The idea of the invisible underclass… You’re only as healthy as the unhealthiest members of your society, aren’t you?” My Trouble “When we were in Hamburg, Gus from alt-J got us tickets to a festival and I recorded him a message saying thanks on a broken xylophone. He called me back and said, ‘You wanna hear the xylophone through the phone’s compression!’ So this song started as this bizarre xylophone rhythm and then Craig [Potter]’s organ really turned it into something else. It had a weird domestic pastoral to it straight away. I think within any long relationship you have to remember to get hold of one another and find the person who was there before you were a partnership or family. I don't really miss my wife’s troublesome side because it's never really that far away, I’m happy to say. It was something that a couple of members of the band really resonated with, so it was pursued and pursued, lots of arguments over which section of the song's the chorus, because it is a strange beast. It’s sort of shamelessly romantic, optimistic, and loving—which is something, I’m not ashamed to say that, we all are.” On Deronda Road “I’d just come back from a holiday with my wife and I wrote a portrait of this guy I’d seen fishing on a rubber ring, using ping-pong bats to steer around this great big glassy lake, pulling this keep net with his teeth all day, every day. I was really pleased with how it scanned and everything, but ultimately it sounded like, ‘I’ve been to India, me!’ So I swept it off the board, leaving this gorgeous piece of music with no direction. I was on the bus with my son and there’s a stop called the Deronda Road. I’d been singing this ditty to my son, ‘We’re on Deronda Road,’ and the whole thing is literally about this moment on the bus with Jack. It’s the only shamelessly non-melancholy uplifting moment on the record.” Weightless “Jack was born and my dad met him twice. He’s named after my dad’s older brother, who he hero-worshipped. So I was able to tell my dad that. It made my dad’s dying part of something. I'm obsessed with how people act given the right stimulus, and the fact we don't really have free will. We are reactive to what we have learned, what we have experienced. You can have genetic advantages and genetic disadvantages, but ultimately we’re all part of an organism—and I’ve never had it explained to me so finely than the way that Jack’s birth helped me with Dad’s death. It just makes me a cog in a wheel, part of the chain of cogs. I’ve got a job to do where he’s concerned, as my dad had with me. It’s actually very reassuring. The album throws up a lot of questions and ends with something I’m very sure of: my love for those two men.”

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