Little Fictions is an album of immensely varying quality. Moments of pure brilliance are separated by tracks of an annoyingly repetitive nature, which is a crying shame, because everything about the start of this album wanted me to commend it highly. Elbow are a band that are capable of creating complex and poignant music, but the fact is that this, their 7th studio album, fails to hit the heights of some of their previous work.
That being said, the opening track and first single from the album, Magnificent (She Says) is a wonderful track. From the moment the palm-muted guitar riff starts, backed up by pointed little licks of bass interjections, it grabs the listeners attention, and continues to hold it throughout – especially when it hits its climactic, anthemic refrains. Like the best songs on the album, the song has a very clear theme – in this case of childlike wonder and the human mind’s ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary through imagination. This is expressed through the sheer poetry and in this case understatedness of Guy Garvey’s lyrics – when combined into a package, it might not be wrong to consider this song a future classic.
Unfortunately, this is the high point of the album. There are very few other standouts on the album, because the band fall prey to some of the more grating aspects of art pop on almost every other track.
First, their quest to avoid the musical norm leaves them putting emphasis on all the wrong parts. Art pop can rely heavily on stripping down music to create a pared back, simplified effect – and this is done well on most tracks, at least initially – the opening piano to Gentle Storm for instance. However, when the band finds an initially promising and intriguing musical stanza, they tend to stick with it almost exclusively. Thus, tracks like the aforementioned Gentle Storm, but also most tracks on the album, suffer from a lack of progression that can disenchant the listener by the end. Where the band accept the need for progression – such as on the penultimate track Kindling – is where they create their strongest material, even if the progression on this track is quite subtle.
Second, the lyrics seem to be arty for artiness’ sake. In complete contrast to the music, the lyrics aren’t pared back enough in some cases – compare the denseness of metaphors and references in Little Fictions to the more focused lyrics in Magnificent and you’ll see what I mean. Where clear lyrical themes emerge, they are dealt with rather well – the exploration of the British tendency to be emotionally closed-off in K2 is extraordinary – but they are not as common as I would have liked. Garvey clearly has a true poetic talent for lyricism – the line “my telephone shakes into life and I see your name, and the wheat fields explode into gold either side of the train” is one of the more evocative lines I have ever heard – but when left unfettered it can make the aural experience quite alienating.
Little Fictions is certainly not a bad album. It has moments of sheer brilliance, and has interesting points to make and at times excellent presentation. But it is simply too unrefined an experience for it to be recommendable, much as I would like to be able to do just that. At times an evocative, beautiful experience; at times dreary and boring, it seems Little Fictions is representative of the themes of imperfection and confusion it likes to present.
Best Songs: Magnificent (She Says), All Disco, Little Fictions, Kindling