The Seldom Seen Kid album will go down as a moment. A moment when critical acclaim and the eyes of the world found them. Their journey from Asleep in the Back through Leaders of the Free World was full of ups and downs and anyone listening since day one will know they always have the songs. The question was never about whether they could deliver, they always could, and they always had people by the ears and the hearts, they carried on despite, and sometimes fuelled by what was happening to them.
A lot of the album was written while the band had no record deal, after the collapse of V2. They were creating without knowing whether any of it would ever be heard outside of the elbow bubble. Guy Garvey said in 2009, “when we were doing the initial bit of writing for this record, we kind of knew our record deal was at an end and we didn’t have a new one. We didn’t know how we were going to sort out all the legal stuff”
The album contains reactions to love, death and friendship and there is as always a beautiful sense of place in the songs featured.
Bands sometimes sell out a little and depart from their core ideas to have the sort of success elbow had with Seldom. Elbow never did, they wrote here about the same things they were writing about in their debut, their debut that was lest we forget, nominated for a Mercury music award. They won that award for this album, and never lost what was important to them.
The Seldom Seen Kid is the result of a band with their backs to the wall, again, and it is creation that comes with cost.
When a band releases a Best Of it’s easy to be cool and write it off as a cash grab, the band in question might have split up, might be going on an indefinite hiatus, might be at the end of their contract, there’s lots of reasons for them in fairness. For a long time I didn’t get Elbow’s Best Of, that’s not be being cool by the way, it just passed me by. I’ve spent the best part of a month with it and I really really didn’t want to like it but I’m here to tell you the boys have done well with it. I wanted to be all yeah well buy the albums, scoff scoff scoff, they’ve missed off such and such well this isn’t for the Day One crowd is it scoff scoff… but it is. This isn’t the end of their story, but this collection works as the end of a phase – I don’t even want to say Phase One because at over twenty five years thats some first chapter. Whatever you call it, from Asleep to Little Fictions it’s been a journey; they were some way down the road before the world seemed to wake up to them after all, and the journey is told in this collection.
Home is where the start is for Elbow, on Leaders of the Free World.
When you’ve written about wanting to get somewhere and you’ve written about what you feel like when you’ve got there, you’ve got to find your way home. Elbow do this with a stomp and a wink with Leaders of the Free World (2005). Whereas they certainly needed grace under pressure to complete Cast of Thousands, the band had learnt that the right approach this time was to capture ideas as and when they happened on the road, whenever and wherever inspiration hit them.
The band manage to channel the ideas into a collection that has a very developed sense of place and environment, this is very clear in the opening track. Station Approach is about coming home to Manchester (station approach, Piccadilly station) and literally knowing the area well and being at home. The listener is not excluded if they happen not to live in this city, because Guy Garvey’s lyrics can apply to anyone wherever they are listening. Three albums’ in, the universal intimacy is something they have perfected.