Continuing in the vein of solo albums brings us back to the last decade, specifically 2015's Courting The Squall and the debut record from Elbow's lead singer Guy Garvey.
Usually solo efforts from a band member whilst that band's still operational feel bittersweet and Garvey's collection bucks this trend. Whilst there's undoubtedly a shift in the style of Garvey's efforts, it's not a seismic one and that makes it all the more welcome. Both those new to his work and well-versed Elbow fans can find something to enjoy here.
Compared to the soaring soundscapes we're used to on Elbow records, Courting The Squall deals with those minor nuances and subtlety, and that's the beauty of it. The title track is a major exponent of this, appearing minimalistic at a first listen, fusing Garvey's tender vocal with light inflections of piano and percussion. It's a wonderfully soft lullaby that makes this album seem worth a listen alone. In a similar vein, so too does the preceding Angela's Eyes, offering a bit more groove with an Afrobeat inspired keyboard solo and rhythmic drumming patterns, as well some blunt lyricism in a kitchen-sink declaration of love where he abandons everything else - "Skipped on school and I ditched self-help/And I never knew a leader to lead/Eton mess you're a lie made flesh/In a house full of robbers and thieves".
Songs like Belly Of The Whale continue this groove, with a great bass introduction mixing nicely with Garvey's positively solemn vocal, offering a stark contrast to the instrumentation behind the Mancunian songsmith. The only real melancholy point of this track is the brass version of Careless Whisper in the middle, before the horn section hurl themselves back into the catchy brass riff this song offers. Lyrically, it's about the house that Garvey found himself pootling around in following split from long-term partner and author Emma-Jane Unsworth, where he realised it's too big and doesn't know what to do with all the space. Unwind offers a walking bassline and some heavy drums that gives Garvey the perfect opportunity to question a relationship throughout the ensuing verses and whether it's the right time to sit back and relax. With its minimalistic feeling, it marks out this album's beauty in a matter of six minutes, characterising its other songs with Garvey's voice taking centre stage in a well-rounded soundscape.
That combination of solemnity and smoothness is something that is repeated throughout the album, with the likes of Harder Edges featuring lyrics detailing the grey nature of life - "Burgeoning sky all day grey/Like living in a tupperware box" - that combine nicely with the drum pattern and light piano sprinklings to make something that's irresistible to listen to. The horn sections that come in near the end of the song only increase this smooth and jazzy sentiments, which is continued towards the end of the record on the album's only duet and one of its standout tracks, Electricity. With its light brushed drums and subtle saxophone, it sees a crooning Garvey duet with Jolie Holland perfectly, and the two complement each other in a brilliant way.
For every solemn and sad song, there's something with a bit more oomph to back it up. Yesterday sees Garvey make a cleverly written love song shrouded with religious imagery and clever word play - "I'm a diligent village idiot toeing the line but watching for a sign
/And when this cheap red wine or the big blue moon/Come to me my little ingenue.". It's a properly well-written declaration of the result of the solo efforts on Courting The Squall, with Garvey declaring "I am reborn" quite forthrightly as the song draws to a close.
Courting The Squall is an album that everyone should be able to get behind. With its nice variety of songs and grown-up feelings, it's one of the last decade's better albums and one that went under the radar for a lot of people. Coming from one of the best British songwriters of the last twenty years makes this an album brimmed with brilliant lyrics as well as some fantastic production and great instrumentation.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/2X54pGd
Or, if you'd prefer, there's a Spotify link below:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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