Thursday, 17 December 2015

My Top Ten Albums of 2015 - Number Five

Midway through Belly of the Whale, the eighth track on Guy Garvey's debut solo album, the jazzband accompanying him break into an off-kilter rendition of George Michael's A Different Corner. As well as being a crafty wink at the moment when a frontman finally goes it alone, this jaunty little intermission also sums up perfectly what's so refreshing about Courting The Squall: it's the sound of Guy letting his hair down.

When asked earlier this year why the time was right for a solo album, Guy explained it away jokingly as a mini mid-life crisis, but also revealed that because every Elbow album is a negotiation with the entire band, each song meticulously crafted to perfection, there was no way to become more prolific with those guys. So while Elbow will continue at their own pace (indeed, this year they've released some of their best material to date, albeit not as an album: The Lost Worker Bee EP was a glorious 4-tracker, while What Time Do You Call This?, the theme to a Simon Pegg romcom, was their best single since One Day Like This), a solo career also allows Garvey the opportunity to get a few more songs out of his brain and into the world before he "dies".

There's a freedom to the tracks on this record then that you might not find amid the shimmering beauty of an Elbow album. Sounding at times like 80s Peter Gabriel with a splash of Paul Simon, Garvey experiments with world music, jazz and orchestral pop (plus a wonderfully smoky Cole Porter impersonation on Electricity)... but however he dresses them up, his lyrics still shine with pure poetry. I have a theory that Guy keeps a notebook at his bedside where he collects "Words you don't often hear in pop songs": and then, he puts them to work. And so we get lines like these...
Love came down like a cooling tower...

Life stands still at an unmanned till...
In the hills it's an overcoat colder
(Courting The Squall)
And I'm flip and indignant and then again, ten again
Your voice is an opium smoke plume
And the room melts away in a velvet irrelevance
(Harder Edges)
Elsewhere you'll find gingerly, barnacles, Tupperware and Eton Mess, but my favourite verse comes in Juggernaut...
Years on, in a winter cafe window
Proper Hopper in the hurry home gloom
As the tail lights spidered through
You were cursing the folly of a three dollar brolly
In your after work make-up and still-at-work shoes
When you blustered through the room...
Which is as good a verse as Simon Armitage ever wrote - and I'm a huge Simon Armitage fan.

Next, at Number 4, the end of the year brings both beautiful and terrible things...

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