A fine B sides set that’s much more than a mere stopgap release.
Andy Fyfe 2012-08-29
Chances are that B side collections like this one will soon be extinct, an alternative view of a band sacrificed to record company executives’ worship of the internet gods. In the download age, there’s little incentive for even the most traditional of modern indie bands to bother recording songs that few will hear, just for their own sake.
But, previously, they could comprise the main attraction. In days when singles came as 45s, radio DJs occasionally flipped the record, turning its supposedly makeweight partner into a career-defining moment. Can you imagine a world where Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry or Rod Stewart’s Maggie May weren’t hits?
Nothing on Dead in the Boot – a coy reference to their debut album Asleep in the Back, suggested by Guy Garvey’s sister – might have worked such magic for Elbow. But for them the B side is a serious business, both a way of rewarding fans with more music and an opportunity to learn more about their craft. In their earliest recording days they would wait until the producer went home before setting to work, creative juices flowing. By doing this, keyboard player Craig Potter taught himself the studio skills that would see him produce later albums.
As such, Lucky With Disease and None One sound naive and unfocussed compared with early single Newborn, but they show a seldom seen experimental side. Others are surprising for the very fact that they were never considered as album tracks. Take McGreggor, the clanking B side of Leaders of the Free World’s Forget Myself, that predates the similarly despondent howl of Grounds for Divorce by three years; or Buffalo Ghosts, every bit as tender as its A side, Open Arms. Most unlikely here, however, is The Long War Shuffle, closer to genuinely menacing Delta blues than any band from Ramsbottom should ever aspire to be.
Dead in the Boot shows B sides, by nature more indulgent and less honed than singles or album tracks, don’t have to be poor relations to more glamorous siblings. This is more than just a stopgap between the albums, and while not exactly standing alongside their best in terms of outright quality, shows that even Elbow’s ‘hidden’ past is worthy of deeper exploration. Roll on the 20th anniversary outtakes box set.