Album Review: Guy Garvey – ‘Courting The Squall’

ggThe worry with distinctive artists, ones so synonymous and central to a band, is that anything released in a solo capacity will usually be merely for the completist, with expectations of it either being a sub-par trudge through what they are already known for, or some bizarre piece of insanity that makes no sense at all.

And then there’s Guy Garvey. A man who has made a career, not just with Elbow but with every aspect of his life, in working to his own set of rules. For Garvey, it seems, there is actually another purpose for such a solo album, and that is to make a truly profound statement.

What is he saying? Something fascinating, something different, something very personal. This is Garvey’s voice, not a collaboration or the coming together of like minds, but a series of personal notes being shared. It’s a series of experiences Garvey has held dear to himself and has now decided to share, ones that had to be said in his own personal voice and style.

Central to doing this is the rhythms, with many of the tracks built almost entirely around them. And it’s this approach, this new rhythmic urgency, that changes the dynamic and tone of what Garvey is attempting so dramatically. This isn’t some completists curio, this is Garvey at his most hungry and raw, and that is always essential.

These are sparse and simple tracks built around simple motifs and Garvey’s intrinsically warm vocals and lyricism. Little vignettes of life and love, bottled for eternity.

On ‘Harder Edges‘ Garvey produces a challenging yet simple, beautiful tone, which is a trick that he alone seems to be able to master. This is echoed on ‘Yesterday‘, with its brooding, dramatic but, more importantly, compelling flourishes that are never obvious or contrived. It’s no fluke, time and time again, no matter what he’s attempting, he achieves.

Electricity‘ is jazz, which no one could see coming, but yes it is still jazz, and what’s more it’s beautiful and right, while ‘Belly Of The Whale‘ is Garvey’s take on Prince’s early 80’s proto-funk, equipped with its own breakbeat and, what’s more, it’s every bit as funky.

The overall effect is beguiling, like a modern musical equivalent of a 1960’s kitchen sink drama – telling tales of a life that has been lived, familiar though not the same. It’s these shared emotions and universal themes, spoken in such plain terms to its audience, that make this record so successful.

Never more so than on its two stand out tracks, opener ‘Angela’s Eyes‘ and what should be the records closer, ‘Broken Bottles and Chandeliers‘. Although both are markedly different in almost every way, they both stand steadfast in what they are trying to achieve; ‘Angela’s Eyes’ aggression and ‘Broken Bottles’ beauty and soul all speaking of Garvey’s frustrations and passions.

It’s such compelling contrasts as these that make this record a success. Garvey manages to achieve real resonance through pushing his ideas to their most extreme conclusions. Following the idea to its very end, no matter where that leads, and telling these tales with real passion and honesty, in doing so creating something of real beauty and worth.

On ‘Angela’s Eyes’ he spits: “I don’t want my f***ing money back” into the void, and it’s a sentiment you can’t disagree with. This is no token, curio, or side project.

This is Guy Garvey, and this is beautiful and primal.

(Dylan Llewellyn-Nunes)

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