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From Last Night: Elbow, Universal and my failure to review objectively - A Most Illuminating Tale
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Robert Wells or Mr Waters
Date: 5.45 pm, Friday 18th March, 2011
Subject: From Last Night: Elbow, Universal and my failure to review objectively
Security: Public
So yesterday I listened to Elbow's latest album, Build A Rocket Boys!

First and foremost I have to say I like it. I like Elbow. I enjoy listening to their works and I think they are worthy of recognition and fame. The problem is I have lots of niggles with their work which lead me to poke at the negatives far more than if I thought they were shit. Also, having spotted many of these niggles early on, I might now be looking for them, and thusly much more likely to find them what with the effect what is know as confirmation bias.

Build A Rocket Boys! is beautifully built. If there is something Elbow does better than anyone else it is spending time in the studio making themselves sound like nobody else. The layering and doubling filling in gaps you wouldn't have noticed, but never being allowed to become muddy. The vocals always stand proud. The atmospherics and ambiences making the world richer. And sometimes stripping back to show the tune in its bare glory. And the songs are loving slices, in this album, of nostalgia. Garvey's gruff voice and honest lyrics cut through emotionally.

My chief problem is that Elbow sing about soaring. I'm always waiting for a take off that never occurs. Lyrics repeat where there could be narrative drive. Music builds and then falls away, where a triumphant climax or a total change in direction would thrill. (Also their astounding work in the studio leads to a relatively dull live performance, because arrangements are locked down. They create a good approximation of their recorded sound, but then you could just go home and listen to the CD.

They are, though, lovely, and this means seeing them live is very happy-making anyway.

There's another thing that has grumpified me against this album though. I went to buy the album on release day and discovered there are five editions doing the rounds. I'm actually in favour of special editions and limited release extras. I can understand that offering a bonus track or a bonus EP with a limited edition version of an album is a good way of getting people to buy it quickly, and maybe buy it at full price from a high street store rather than off amazon marketplace in six months, second hand for £1.28. I kinda object to the uber-rare or uber-pricey limited releases, but only because I can't afford them, and it is frustrating to want to pay for an extra disc but to find that the only way to get it is to buy a £100 deluxe art box set.

The five releases are standard CD (£10), deluxe CD (£17), vinyl (£20), standard itunes (£8) and deluxe itunes (£11). Now I would expect the deluxe CD to be the best option for me, but it turns out it's the standard CD in different packaging (and not particularly exciting packaging either, just a digipak rather than a jewel case). The vinyl release contains nothing extra, but does include a code for a free download. The itunes deluxe version however includes 3 live videos unavailable anywhere else. This all seems very petty I know, but for me I almost paid £7 for a rather dull CD case, and may well end up having to buy the album on itunes just to get the videos. It's so tedious.

In a small, itchy way, it does poison me against the album. It makes me think that someone hasn't really thought through what they're releasing. Maybe it was the band's choice, but it just feels like some record label marketing department standard method of extracting money number 4c - multiple editions.

This, by the way, is why I can't seem to listen to Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. I bought a copy direct from the record label and the whole experience left me angry and feeling literally sick. They were running a prize draw for gig tickets if you pre-ordered the album. It said no purchase necessary, but there was no way to enter the draw without buying and there was no easy way to cancel your order. The website was clunky and kept dropping you on useless pages. I gave up and just bought the damn thing in the end. I didn't get tickets and paid over the odds to pre-order an album that then arrived a week after it was in shops.

Also, every page I came to had a logo linking it to a site that supposedly verified legitimate music sources. It listed Universal and EMI and itunes and had lots of testimonials stating that if you downloaded your music from anywhere else, bands would suffer. However, it missed out sites such as bandcamp because they're just people making music in their bedrooms. Amanda Palmer currently distributes through bandcamp since leaving her label. They also failed to tell me how much of my money would be going to the artists if I did buy through their sites. Does anyone know of a comparison site that does that?

This then leads to a ramble about making it easy for people to pay you money, but that's for another day.

PS Privates on Parade by Peter Nichols is a thoroughly satisfying tale of military entertainments after WWII. I liked it many. I really want to hear a soundtrack now.
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