Examination of the elbow “ asleep in the back ” 20 years later
In the early 2000s, Elbow emerged from a period of transition in British music. By the turn of the century Britpop had completely fragmented and faded, but there were still a few years before a new wave of spiky, spiky English rockers arose. In the meantime, there was post-Britpop, a murky genre that was both aesthetic and defining. What we mostly remember now are a handful of bands that seemed to be following in Radiohead‘s wake – more atmospheric and teargas than their generally more colorful Britpop predecessors. Coldplay was the tallest, eventually becoming a full-fledged pop celebrity. Doves and Travis released beloved albums as the ’90s gave way to those dawning days of the 21st century. Then there was Elbow, a band that has persisted for years now and finally released their debut album. Asleep in the back 20 years ago today.
In one form or another, Elbow had already been around for a decade. An earlier iteration of the band took place in high school, when Guy Garvey met Mark Potter, who recruited him to sing in a band with his friends Richard Jupp and Pete Turner. By the end of the 90s, they’d renamed themselves Elbow, mixed up the lineups, and were getting ready to make their Island Records debut. That deal fell apart and the band had to re-record what was to become Asleep in the back. After a few more years, they signed on with V2 and released the album in the spring of 2001 – just in time to catalog the “21st century hangover” that Garvey had already anticipated, a gloomy sense of drifting apart. apparent sea change side. (It was in the UK. Elbow should have waited even longer for their debut to hit the shores of America, where they arrived in early 2002.)
It’s hard to imagine now, the possibility that Elbow might have released music in the 90s. Perhaps they wouldn’t have been as shocking as an outlier, with Radiohead running alongside Britpop themselves. . But when Asleep in the back released in 2001, it felt a lot of its time and place. The whole album was cloudy, nocturnal, drenched in rain, alternating between haunting stories and nostalgic flashbacks that were both warm and unpleasant. They were quite at home in the hazy post-Britpop wave, and they were often compared to artists who had little influence on ’90s Britpop – Radiohead, U2, Talk Talk, the aforementioned Blue Nile. Garvey’s voice was immediately and constantly compared to that of Peter Gabriel, and the melancholy art-rock of Elbow owed Gabriel a great debt as well.
It all came together for a start that was immersive listening. “Any Day Now” kicked it off with a trip-hop beat beckoning another Elbow inspiration, DJ Shadow, and it was a perfect curtain-raiser on the world of Elbow. They still don’t have a lot of songs like that. There is a kind of mechanistic sparkle in the song, a feeling of rote repetition, the chanting “any day now” as a promise to yourself to step out of the gray environment of your youth. For Elbow, the dead-end hometown in question was the suburb of Bury, in Greater Manchester. (The more throaty trip-hop of “Little Beast” was also a reflection of their childhood there.) If “Any Day Now” was about that classic impulse to get out and see the rest of the world, it was an opening. suitable for Asleep in the back – thematically, and in terms of how the album would irrevocably change the life of the band.
From there, the album was an empathetic, evocative series of different characters and scenes – the kind of collection you often find in a debut album or novel. Garvey has written on Friends, Family and Memories. “Red” was about a friend with a drug problem, while “Powder Blue” picked up on a similar thread, describing a couple Garvey once saw in a bar getting off something at the same time. At times like these, Elbow’s patient arrangements served them well – the watery guitars and piano stunts of “Powder Blue” created a perfectly blurry scene, before the song came out on mute vocals and sighing saxophones. In some ways Elbow already had a great sense of catharsis in their music. But like “Any Day Now,” a lot of those songs were about people trapped in certain cycles and situations, like how “Bitten By The Tailfly” turned the weekend party scene and hookups into an overflow. particularly primitive of loud guitars and tumbling drums.
But at the same time, Asleep in the back was far from a dark album. There were moments of comfort, of connection, of hope. One of the album’s calling cards was its sprawling “Newborn” centerpiece. At various times Elbow was sometimes seen as a proggy band, and the band used to call themselves “prog without the solos”. “Newborn” might be the best example of this reach and ambition in the early days of Elbow. The band said they were trying to emulate an orchestra with “Newborn,” and the result was a lush and beautiful song that built an astonishing climax, airy organs and spiral guitars, and Garvey’s intensified vocals before. that waves of distortion do not cause the song to come out. It was a stampede, the soundtrack of a story in which two lovers imagine themselves growing old together.
In many ways, Asleep in the back remains Elbow’s darkest album sonically and thematically. “Newborn” was a big bleeding heart overflowing in the middle of the album, as if he was there to try to heal the surrounding songs. It was more indicative of the direction Elbow would take as a group in the future, but it wasn’t alone. At the end of Asleep in the backon the long, hazy journey through the night, you had “Scattered Black And Whites”. All these years later, some fans still rate this as Elbow’s best song – and they might not be wrong. On a soft acoustic guitar and piano interjections, Garvey reflects on snapshots of his childhood, stretching back through the years. “I come back here every now and then / shelter here for a few days,” he sings in the chorus, pointing out how powerful his gruff voice would become when he found his muse, the past and the nostalgia. More than the weird corners of Asleep in the back, this is where Elbow would settle down over the years. Their catalog is full of meditative songs in the vein of “Scattered Black And Whites”, but even at their best, they rarely match the original model.
Most of these post-Britpop bands weren’t necessarily “cool”. They were too serious, or critics might find them austere or cursed. But there was a richness in the Elbow stories and a gravity for Garvey as a leader and storyteller. Asleep in the back arrived at a feverish round of success. Like the British press, they crowned Elbow; you can even find old reviews saying they were almost on par with their beloved Radiohead. The album was nominated for a Mercury Award. After years of struggling to find their place, Elbow’s debut paved the way for a career that, at least in their native UK, has been hugely successful.
While Elbow was never exactly a hip band, Asleep in the back accumulated a level of media buzz that they have probably never matched again. However, they continued to grow. After Asleep in the backsuccessor to Cast of thousands, the group began to develop a slightly simpler version of their aesthetic. Eventually this led to the 2008s The rarely seen child – arguably their best and most remarkable album, and the one that made it Won them the Mercury Prize. Now they’re an establishment in their home country, filling arenas and leaning more into the U2 part of their sound than the Radiohead. Over the years they have become known for their fiery, sad and euphoric choruses, songs like “One Day Like This” becoming their hallmark. Garvey would tap into great universal sentiments, and he could sing them in a way that made a whole bunch of people in one area want to repeat them to him.
Knowing what happened later, you can draw lines of it from Asleep in the back, but it also looks like a very different group. Elbow was already in his late twenties; they weren’t green per se. There was a global weariness in their early days, a wise (or worn) quality beyond their years. But at the same time, the darker shades of Asleep in the back now feel like a last purge of youthful apathy. There is still a lot of desire over the next two decades of Elbow music. Over the years, their whole framing has changed. In the early 2000s, Elbow emerged in a period of transition for British music, but they also emerged from their upbringing, from their initial background. Any day now, they were going to go out. When they did, they instead sought to capture the specter of human experience not with melancholy, but with wonder.