Sometimes an album leaps out at me from an act’s discography and captures ‘the moment’ for me. The Seldom Seen Kid was that album through the first few months of 2009. It’s not like Elbow reinvented their sound to appeal to a wider audience, they had just honed their craft to a point where their songs tapped into a part of my psyche where, as I listened to The Seldom Seen Kid, it could stop me in my tracks as I fought to hide my emotions and mutter, “Yeah man, I’ve been there…” to myself.
Like a lot of my favourite albums, I was able to transpose some aspect(s) of my life over The Seldom Seen Kid and it was (in my head at least) a perfect fit. In the first half of 2009, within these dozen tracks, there were friends, lovers, recent life experiences, and a song about tower cranes, which at the time dominated the skyline of my hometown, and continued to do so for many years to come.
So yes, at the time there was a girl who was ‘The only thing in any room she’s ever in’, I did know someone who was ‘mixing up a cocktail called “Grounds for Divorce”‘, and there was another girl who I was prepared to drop everything for when ‘She says she needs me’. The Seldom Seen Kid reflected what had been current in my life in the six months prior to when I first heard it in 2009. This probably goes a long way to explain why I prefer The Seldom Seen Kid to every other Elbow album, even though they’ve all had something to recommend them. With The Seldom Seen Kid, Elbow finally received the respect they had always been due, what with a surprise Mercury Music Prize Win, and getting the opportunity to bait David Hasselhoff at the Brit Awards (to be fair, until Stormzy’s recent appearance, there was a question as to what else there was to do at The Brit Awards).
Ultimately though, what matters about The Seldom Seen Kid is the songs, with the first seven songs being a fried-gold lesson in exactly how to ‘do’ adult-indie (addie?). The only time the ball is dropped is the band’s much ballyhooed collaboration with Richard Hawley, which does neither Hawley nor Elbow any favours, and prevents this album becoming almost totally flawless. Face is saved by the wonderfully evocative “Some Riot”, and the made-for-adverts / sports round-ups “One Day Like This”, which could easily have fallen into mawkish sentimentality, but somehow doesn’t due to the band knowing just how long to milk something like that, yet still not make a career out of it.
The Seldom Seen Kid (shorn of the the not-bad bonus track) closes with “Friend of Ours”, a eulogy for a recently passed away friend of the band and The Seldom Seen Kid of the album title. It’s hardly the band’s finest closing track (given that the previous two had been absolute belters), but it closes the album in a way that only Elbow can really pull off.
A decade after its release, the Grounds for Divorce went through years ago, and the girl whose personality dominated the room, as well as the one who expected me to drop everything each time she got bored, have both long since departed from my life, and I find myself a little older, wiser, and a whole lot more careworn, yet The Seldom Seen Kid is still with me, and is still the only Elbow album that I feel the need to play once in a while. As the band’s breakthrough album, The Seldom Seen Kid wasn’t a case of Elbow selling out or making compromises for chart success, they just recorded an album of really good songs that resonated with an audience outside their core following. For me The Seldom Seen Kid is one of the best albums of its era, and its unexpected success was testimony to a band sticking to their guns in the face of adversity (lest we forget, they were dropped by their record label previous to recording The Seldom Seen Kid, which turned out to be their best album). While Elbow may never match the international success of their contemporaries Coldplay, neither do they reek of indie-cool. They are quite simply, a bloody good band that knew how to make a jaded thirty something’s heart swell, and a decade later, The Seldom Seen Kid is still an absolutely fantastic album.