Elbow: Asleep in the Back (Vinyl Reissue) [Polydor] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Asleep in the Back (Vinyl Reissue)


Mar 30, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Nearly two decades after it first came out in the UK, Elbow’s debut album still breathes deeply as a heady hallmark of the post-Britpop wave. This vinyl reissue offers an opportunity to sit down and take it all in again.

The Manchester-area band were almost late-comers to that early 2000s stage which had been set by Brit-rock balladeers like Travis, Coldplay, and Embrace, even though its members had been playing together since the early ’90s and forging toward a first full-length for several years. The prolonged gestation period must account at least in part for the advanced development of Asleep in the Back. Unlike the debut discs from those other aforementioned groups, Asleep felt considered and reconsidered down to every note.

Only in comparison to other Elbow albums that would follow—some of which have also now been pristinely re-pressed by Polydor—does Asleep in the Back sound remotely rough around the edges. The band would only grow more refined from here; Guy Garvey’s ethereal bell of a voice focusing its resonance, the songwriting choices made by brothers Mark and Craig Potter (guitarist and keyboardist, respectively), and bassist Pete Turner hewn in subtle tastefulness. Through the lens of later LPs like Leaders of the Free World and The Take Off and Landing of Everything, Asleep in the Back appears practically risk-taking, and that (relatively) adventurous nature is what sets it apart in Elbow’s catalog.

There’s “Newborn,” for instance, the album’s most obvious single aside from the lilting chamber pop title track that precedes it. “Newborn” is dropped right in the middle of things at an uncompromising seven-and-a-half building minutes in length, and kicks off with Asleep’s most memorable image, “I’ll be the corpse in your bathtub/Useless/I’ll be as deaf as a post/If you hold me like a newborn,” which could read like a bracing punk lyric until the last bit. The rattling low end and heavy stutter step of opener “Any Day Now” is a declarative entrance, if not necessarily indicative of the overall tone of the eleven other songs to come.

Those kinds of creative chances have kept Asleep in the Back vital. Songs like “Red,” “Powder Blue,” and “Scattered Black and Whites” proved Elbow to already be top notch at elevating choruses, but along the album’s often ruminative and mid-tempo path it’s tracks like the trip hop informed “Little Beast” or the hypnotic slash-and-roll of “Bitten By the Tailfly” that provide the muscle. Asleep in the Back was an auspicious start and remains an impactful statement. (www.elbow.co.uk)

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