Elbow Asleep in the Back: Deluxe Edition Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

An essential purchase for anyone yet to call this album their own.

Mike Diver 2009

Arriving rather late to be viewed as a cash-in following its makers’ taking of the 2008 Mercury Prize, this re-issuing of Elbow’s excellent debut album of 2001 is welcomed for all the right reasons. Firstly, it’s a genuinely great collection which never quite attracted the audience it warranted first time around, and secondly it’s been expanded with material worth the ‘deluxe edition’ suffix.

Disc one of this three-CD set is that original album: nothing added, nothing taken away. It still sounds as perfectly morose, as wonderfully sorrowful yet soaring of chorus and stirring of emotion, as it did upon its initial release (nine-out-of-10 reviews in the NME don’t grow on trees, you know – it really is worth shelling out for, this). The singles – Red, the elegiac-of-tone Newborn and the understated grandeur of the title track – take the listener back, their appearances clearing misted-over memories and triggering the welling of forgotten feelings.

What’s impressive, listening again, is just how strong the material surrounding these selected-to-stand-alone tracks is – Don’t Mix Your Drinks is a sinister warning delivered in hushed tones, conveying a real threat that circumstances could soon spiral out of all control, and Coming Second’s barroom stomp can be heard as a precursor to the excellent Grounds for Divorce, from Elbow’s Mercury-winning The Seldom Seen Kid. The quality control levels are steady throughout.

Disc two features four tracks from the Bury band’s self-released Noisebox EP – lucky you if you’ve a CDR copy of the 1998 original, surely worth more than a few bob. Powder Blue, Can’t Stop and Red were later polished for Asleep in the Back, but their rawer forms are no less affecting for their rough edges; indeed, the version of Powder Blue is arguably better for all its crackle and hum. Live material comprises the rest of what’s on offer: a selection of songs from a 2001 appearance at London’s (now closed) Astoria, featuring Noisebox number George Lassoes the Moon, and three acoustic tracks from a Steve Lamacq session of the same year. The stripped-back take of Don’t Mix… is suffocatingly intimate.

Extra value for money comes in the form of a DVD, featuring the album's official videos and more. Considering everything included in the package, this really is an essential purchase for anyone yet to call this album their own.

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