Music Reviews
Audio Vertigo

Elbow Audio Vertigo

(Polydor) Rating - 9/10

It’s been a few years since it feels like Elbow has really wowed its audience with new material. While it had some beautiful moments, their last album, Flying Dream 1, felt like they were slowly waking down the path to the musical retirement home known as “adult alternative.” But it turns out that was a case of pandemic malaise. The group has come roaring back with their most exciting work since The Seldom Seen Kid. 

Audio Vertigo feels like a worthy sequel to the progressive stylings of Giants of All Sizes. It’s a more focused affair that hones the band’s sprawling ambitions into a decidedly tight, rhythmic, and kinetic record. While their anthemic melodies, whisky-worn vocals, and conversational lyrics remain in place, Elbow’s attention turns most strongly to its percussive elements, giving these songs a creative and energetic boost.

The best example of this approach is on Lovers’ Leap, which smashes together cascading horns and a slick, slippery groove for Guy Garvey to mumble, then belt over. It’s the type of song that makes your ears perk up from the word go, a layered track that reveals something new with multiple listens. 

That semblance holds true for many tunes found here. The Picture gallops along with a great drum pattern that doubles down for an explosive chorus. Give this a listen next time you’re driving and you may accidentally find yourself speeding. Then there’s Balu and its mountainous, rumbling bass line that anchors its airy synths. The track knows when to give room to Garvey’s pining lyrics for its titular subject, and when to roar back. The almost jazzy horn-filled bridge is a delight as well. 

But if you’re looking for more “traditional” Elbow anthems, you’re in luck, as they’ve written some of their best. Good Blood Mexico City uses a fantastic and memorable guitar riff to launch itself into one rocket of a chorus, conjuring racing through alleys with your friends and a smile on your face. It’ll generate singalongs in arenas for years to come. Things I’ve Been Telling Myself for Years is more of a slow burn but no less impressive. Its musical landscape is perfect for Garvey to spin a yarn, sounding like the type of person you meet at a bar and who can’t wait to tell you his life story and thoughts on the world, but he’s so fascinating that you can’t help but listen.

The slower songs on Audio Vertigo work well because they’re joined by such a diverse range of sounds. These tracks usually move the impetus back onto Garvey for his excellent storytelling. Very Heaven is a wistful lookback at the confidence and invincibility of one’s teenage years. The muffled chants of Her to the Earth help create a unique and unexpected musical background. Knife Fight is a quick hit with a shuddering bass that brings across the wariness of the scuffle Garvey saw in Istanbul. And on From the River, the synths announce themselves the sun peaking through a stain-glass window. 

Nearly everything about Audio Vertigo works, offering one of Elbow’s most consistently great entries in their catalog. It’s the type of album that has an easygoing, buoyant vibe and rewards dedicated, repeated listens. It feels like a piece of art that can only be created by experienced, veteran musicians free to casually flow their muses wherever they may lead. It’s a joy to find that even 10 albums into their career, they still have the ability to surprise and thrill.