B-side and rarity compilation albums are always a tricky prospect for reviewers. Should they be judged by the same criteria as other, studio, albums? Or are we expected to cut them some extra slack? After all, they wear their B-rating on their sleeves…
In many ways Elbow‘s Dead In The Boot is the archetypal B-side compilation. Boasting some strong tracks and providing some extra fuel for the dedicated fan, it nonetheless feels slight alongside the band’s full-length, fully-realized output. Elbow have always nurtured a low-key, laidback sound, but here they sometimes almost fade from sight entirely. There are still highlights – including ‘McGreggor’ and ‘The Long War Shuffle’ – but the overall vibe is so subdued that it becomes something of a downer. Before long you’ll find yourself craving just a little of the swoop and soar of ‘One Day Like This’.
What Dead In The Boot does have in its favor is a coherence of tone and imagery from start to finish – a rarity among B-side compilations, especially when you consider that these songs are drawn from a ten-year career. While no one would mistake Dead In The Boot for a major new Elbow release, it does at least play like an album rather than just a collection of outtakes. On those criteria alone it has to be deemed a success – throw in Guy Garvey’s broken, worn-down vocals and you have a compilation worthy of our attention.
Listeners who are new to Elbow’s catalog – especially those of you who discovered them during their Olympics ceremony performances – would still do well to start elsewhere. This isn’t always an easy album to like, while The Seldom Seen Kid already feels like a modern classic. But if you’re a Garvey fan, then Dead In The Boot is a welcome – if rather downbeat – addition to the canon. Just don’t expect it to lift your mood on those dark winter nights.