Elbow’s Leaders of the Free World might be good hangover music. Well, it filled that spot nicely for me on Sunday, as I recovered from the extreme and delicious day before at Hashigo Zake’s X-Ale festival.
I first heard Elbow when a friend recommended 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid to me, seemingly just days before the album was nominated for a Mercury Prize and, suddenly, it seemed everyone down here in New Zealand had heard about them.
And that was cool. But The Seldom Seen Kid didn’t quite click for me. But it was interesting enough to send me looking for earlier albums by the band. Because with music, as with beer, I tend not to give up on things without giving them a few attempts to reveal their depth.
And that’s what Leaders of the Free World, Elbow’s 2006 album has in spades. Depth. Not depth as in deep (but there are moments that are beautiful and profound), but depths as in conveying layer upon layer of sounds and styles within the album’s very mature, very polished sound.
“Station Approach,” the album opener, seeps in, clicking along prettily until, suddenly, it explodes into a thumping wall of sound, a delicious throbbing of rhythm, awaking the ears and, maybe the feet. Or perhaps just a little finger wiggle if you’re laid up on the couch.
By turns the albums rocks and swoons; eleven little stories of suburban love and life, of drinking “until the barman is a Christmas tree,” of frustration of being “sick of working for a living, just counting off the days ‘till I die.”
I find the louder songs such as “Forget Myself” or the title track would be great to hear live; big fun rhythm sections as each song builds to smart sing-along choruses. Smart, sing-along rock songs, played with a bit of joy and a lot of heart.
But it’s in the album quieter tracks that I find the most comfort. There’s a deep vein of heartbreak seeping through here, an ingredient perfectly suited to the melancholy of the day after a big night out. Soaring choruses of sad beauty, such as the heart-wrenching “The Stops”, where Guy Garvey sings in his husky angel of missing someone the way they miss the sea, pleading with them to “keep staring like you’ve never seen the stars.”
And, the real heartbreaker comes just before the end, where gently plucked guitar carries Garvey’s voice, trailed by a sweet harmony, as he declares “we exchanged a vow, I love you, I always will.”
Great Expectations, a gentle booze and smoke drenched story of falling in love, maybe forever, maybe just for the night:
A call girl with yesterday eyes Was our witness and priest Stockport supporters club kindly supplied us a choir Your vow was your smile As we move down the aisle Of the last bus home
“You were the sun in my Sunday morning,” the narrator declares, as he seems to be waiting alone in the same bus stop, waiting for her return. Which you know will never occur.
Beer match: A good hangover album should also be a good late-night album, I think. This is the sort of album that suits sitting down with a nightcap, perhaps with your love, or perhaps to not think about the one that got away. Try something rich and dark, a beer to relax into. Duchesse de Bourgogne, a sweet and tart Flanders red, would do nicely.
 More about which, over the next few beer blogs I’m sure.↩
 Which they won.↩
 Well, often. Not always. I do draw the line at Export Gold and Six-60.↩