Release Date: Nov 20, 2012
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Alternative Pop/Rock
Elbow’s new B-sides and rarities compilation, Dead in the Boot, possesses a surprising continuity for an album covering more than a decade’s worth of recordings. Despite the band’s affection for large, hopeful emotions and sweeping cinematic instrumentals, which have made them the darlings of ad campaigns and festival concert stages all over the world, the songs here prove that Elbow is still capable of delivering contemplative songs about uncertainty, gray skies, and loneliness. The opening track, “Whisper Grass,” a B-side from 2003’s Cast of Thousands, encapsulates the album’s dynamic by beginning gently before breaking into a squall of cymbal crashes and semi-melodic guitar noise and then returning to soft vocals and piano chords by song’s end.
There’s a window of time during the night, long after the last camper has gone to bed, when the once raging bonfire calms to the slow burn of embers. If anyone were still awake, the fire would inevitably be provoked back into something more lively. But in the silence of sleep, the process plays out unhindered by intervention. If you happen to wake between midnight and dawn and you take a moment to climb out of your sleeping bag, leave the tent, and make your way back to central bonfire pit, you’ll find a warm slow burn hissing quietly and consistently—for hours.
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.
Culled from singles that date back to 2001, a track from the EP Newborn ("None One"), and B-sides from 2011's well-received Build a Rocket Boys!, Dead in the Boot offers up a rare glimpse into the often insular song-building world of the Manchester outfit. Decidedly less bombastic and ornate than the majority of the band's more anthemic album offerings, Dead in the Boot is a quieter, more abstract affair that feels surprisingly autonomous. Elbow have always straddled the line between stadium-ready house band and a band that just wants to stay in the house, lock the doors, and be left alone to die, and it's the latter persuasion that informs the majority of the collection's 13 cuts.
When you really think about Elbow – and their omnipresence in our sports TV shows means that we have plenty of opportunity to do so – it’s really kind of odd how it has all ended up for them. ‘One Day Like This’, their big show-closer, the first song that TV producers go to when they want to communicate that something is Big, Impressive And Inspiring, is a declaration of love from one alcoholic to another as they start to hit the sauce before midday. Back of the net!Given that one of their major recurring themes is that life is much more interesting, albeit not necessarily in a good way, with alcohol in it, and that they had a brand of beer named after their last album, it does seem a particularly perverse choice that the BBC commissioned them to write their Olympics theme tune.
The 2012 summer Olympics may have come and gone, but the excitement still lives on, especially in regards to Elbow’s closing ceremony performance and “First Steps”, the official theme written for the BBC. Elbow was an inspired choice for the occasion, thanks to the Manchester quintet’s unambiguously British sound and penchant for crafting songs that exude a sense of power and significance to soundtrack momentous occasions as emotionally charged as Olympic victories, even with the underlying melancholia. Following the wave of post-Olympic hysteria is Dead in the Boot, a decidedly uncommercial collection of B-sides and bonus tracks.
A fine B sides set that’s much more than a mere stopgap release. Andy Fyfe 2012 Chances are that B side collections like this one will soon be extinct, an alternative view of a band sacrificed to record company executives’ worship of the internet gods. In the download age, there’s little incentive for even the most traditional of modern indie bands to bother recording songs that few will hear, just for their own sake.