Whether confessing that he “dreamed of you and I/And marriage in an orange grove” or claiming that “we kissed like we invented it,” Elbow frontman Guy Garvey is no less a gooey romantic than fellow British swooners James Blunt, Chris Martin, or Fran Healy, yet he never comes off nearly as wheedling or whipped as those oft-mocked soft touches. Garvey’s approvingly manful build, beard, and baritone all no doubt help him skirt being tagged a pantywaist, but it’s his approach toward women and love that truly makes him seem like the healthiest sap on the block.
That aforementioned cadre of dewy strummers and plinkers too often place their beloveds on the pedestal of near-creepy unattainability and poorly poetic idol worship—something that Garvey only does on The Seldom Seen Kid when his tongue’s firmly in cheek (“Starlings,” “An Audience With the Pope”). Instead, on Elbow’s fourth album, he brings romance down to the lived-in level of a day’s first cigarette, to unapologetically artless effusions like “Holy cow I love your eyes.” The singer’s Mancunian bleariness is such that the bittersweet barfly sing-along “Grounds for Divorce” rings effortlessly real, while the quasi-spiritual questing of “Weather to Fly” gets reined in by the sobering image of “pounding the streets where my father’s feet/Still ring from the walls.” Still, there’s no mistaking Garvey or the gorgeously swelling band behind him for cynics—not with the way one mate’s dissolution is treated with aggrieved concern on “Some Riot,” or the way another’s death is handled with absolute tenderness on “Friend of Ours.” Rather than rue the relative paucity of fair skies above their English heads, Elbow seize upon life’s rare bursts of sunlight, inviting a choir of voices to contemplate a perfectly love-drunk morning and humbly attest: “One day like this a year would see me right.”
Elbow play Webster Hall April 26