Under the Radar’s 15th Anniversary: Elbow’s “Asleep in the Back”
Celebrating Under the Radar's 15th Anniversary and the Best Albums of 2001
Feb 06, 2017 Web Exclusive
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Under the Radar's very first print issue came out in December 2001. In honor of our 15th Anniversary some of our writers are reflecting on some of their favorite albums from 2001.
If Elbow's debut album showed us anything, it was that album-oriented rock was not dead in 2001. In fact it was very much alive. Asleep in the Back may have lacked a distinctive single, but it doesn't lack a shortage of distinctive alternative rock tracks whose appeal is apparent but whose character is only revealed after repeated plays.
It's impossible to listen to Elbow and not think of the inimitable Peter Gabriel and the stylings of early Genesis and Pink Floyd. Frontman Guy Garvey's voice is equally as gruff and sublime as Gabriel's and musically Elbow explore tone and texture with the same dynamics as the best bands from the prog rock era.
But on Asleep in the Back, the band is not stuck in the history of rock. Instead their influences are used to create novel and well-crafted art rock that may not be suited for airplay but is certainly well suited for replay. The wealth of talent is apparent on first listen but the depth of the album as a whole can only be experienced over time. The complexity of the layers is peeled away with each spin to reveal the succulent fruit within. From the lilting melodies and grand vocal arrangements of "Powder Blue" to the buzz saw guitars of "Coming Second," Asleep in the Back shows off a musical prowess that begs to be heard again and again.
Sublime melodies and ambient textures persist throughout, wrapped in stylistic arrangements forming majestic rock tunes that resonate with a warm glow. The album is heavily reliant on the passionately smooth vocals of Garvey, he has both the voice and the eloquence to not only carry a song, but afford the listener an emotional connectivity with the music. The 12 tracks on this debut album shined enough to be shortlisted for Britain's prestigious Mercury Prize and impressed enough for critics to rate it one of the best 50 albums of 2001.
Since then Elbow has shown growth and expanded their horizons. They have garnered awards (Mercury Prize for 2008's The Seldom Seen Kid), were backed by a full orchestra for a live BBC special, and developed a winning combination that plays out like something resembling a cross between Peter Gabriel's offspring and Coldplay's cooler, artistic cousin.
Elbow has overcome a dreadful band name to the point where the tag is now synonymous with engaging and powerful, atmospheric rock. Asleep in the Back got the ball rolling and it's still as daring and adventurous as it was upon release in 2001 and is worth a trip in the wayback machine for a revisit.
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