Giants of All Sizes is Elbow’s best record in years. Guy Garvey and co distil a spectrum of emotion into nine tracks that each have a different way of moving you. It’s a truly affecting work of art.
We all know about Elbow’s talents- you can’t argue with a Mercury Prize winner- but in recent times they’ve seemed to allow themselves to be typecast as one-note orchestral anthem merchants. Something unexpected was needed, and here it is.
‘Giants of All Sizes’ isn’t some kind of explosive return to form though, it’s much more subtle than that. Garvey has always been an impeccable lyricist, but the way he opens up on his recent grief takes that up a notch or two here.
There are two contrasting griefs- one of anger and despair at the state of the world, and a quieter, reflective one in relation to the deaths of Garvey’s father and some close friends of the band. The album packs a punch when it needs to, alongside moments of serenity tinged with sadness.
These elements come together in the epic opening track ‘Dexter and Sinister’, which features some of the finest examples on the record of eloquent stabs at the outside world and thought-provoking, introspective words on the atmosphere inside Garvey’s head.
There’s a rich mix of sounds to adorn the lyrics, and the string section is called in on only a couple of well-chosen occasions. Out-of-kilter time signatures and quirky, almost glitchy bits of production bring Elbow’s usual classic balladry right into the modern day- particularly on the gorgeous ‘My Trouble’.
Whilst the lows are particularly low, such as the gut-wrenching ‘The Delayed 3:15’, the album ends on warmer notes, with the glowing full-band chorus of ‘On Deronda Road’ and the simple beauty of ‘Weightless’, where Garvey pours out love for his late father and his newborn son.
Music stays with you the most when you can relate to it, and ‘Giants of All Sizes’ is nothing if not incredibly human. There’s something for all of us to think about here, and hats off to Elbow for stepping out of the shadow of their past successes to make a record so different- the risk paid off.