Music Reviews
Dead in the Boot

Elbow Dead in the Boot

(Polydor Records) Rating - 7/10

When it comes to b-sides compilations, the preference for release is leaning more and more towards fan club exclusive downloads.  Of course, Elbow was never a band for leaving people out.  Their communal senses lead Dead in the Boot to getting the full album treatment, physical CD and all.  The result is a collection that will obviously please the diehard followers and may even give the casual listener something to nod along to.

Titled by Guy Garvey’s sister as a clever callback to their debut Asleep in the Back, the record paints an alternate history for Elbow.  In this version of reality, the band never went the anthemic route that they discovered around Leaders of the Free World.  Instead, they focused on creating gentle mood pieces that allowed for more subtleties.  Nothing here reaches the heights of One Day Like This or Station Approach.  Each number is a little musical project that contains elements of future directions they would eventually take.  

Lucky With Disease is a gentle, piano-laden affair with softly spoken vocals.  If this doesn’t sound like something you’d enjoy, it’d be in your interest to cherry pick your favorites from iTunes rather than getting the whole album.  Many of the band’s earlier b-sides fall into this pattern, such as Whisper Grass and None One.  This does allow greater attention to be given to Garvey’s excellent lyrics.  Lines like “In this cellular age / Phone sex is too expensive” are more offbeat than his usual offerings, giving the audience a different look into his writing process.  All in all though, many of these songs feel like half-developed ideas.  This is especially true of Waving From Windows, a song that pushes and pulls between electronic bleeps and gorgeous strings, but ultimately goes nowhere.

The b-sides from Leaders of the Free World are the most interesting by far, moving outside the band’s comfort zones and really showcasing the musical expansion they were going through at the time. No wonder the record was a breakthrough success.  The Long War Shuffle is sly and slinky, throwing in a dirty country riff unlike anything in the band’s catalogue.  It tumbles along in until a steel guitar solo rips through the speakers, jolting you out of the false sense of security the steady rhythm produces. Why don’t they use that instrument more often?  The other song taken from that time, McGreggor, is a nasty, percussion-heavy piece of work.  Garvey spits out lyrics like “A woman at the window / With her hands on her hips / Staring out across the ocean / Like the prow of a ship” with venom that’s hardly found in any album tracks.  It’s a vocal style that warrants future exploration.

Once we get into the era of The Seldom Seen Kid and beyond, Elbow moves into styles both expected (Snowball’s acoustic build to a soaring crescendo) and unexpected (the vibrating drone and outer space choir of Every Bit The Little Girl).  In either scenario, the songs are vibrant and worth checking out, but don’t match up to the album tracks.  The only exception is Buffalo Ghosts’ intricate guitars and lyrics, which should have been on Build a Rocket Boys!  Together, this compilation isn’t for everyone and does contain a few duds.  But there are more than enough gems in here to deserve a purchase from any Elbow fan or fanatic.