Elbow (and lead singer Guy Garvey particularly) are a sort of underground national treasure in the United Kingdom. They play shows for royalty, but they appear to be the kind of band you’d want to spend the afternoon in the pub with. Garvey himself presents a popular and very enjoyable regular radio show.

But his real day job is as Elbow’s lead singer and songwriter.

And with “Balu” they have put to bed their delicate and luscious previous album with a furious and groove-filled giant of a track which talks about… what?

I had an initial fanciful idea that it could be about a pet, in the tradition of The Beatles and Crowded House singing about their dogs. But if that’s the case, this lyric seems a very strange thing to say to a beloved pooch:

I’ll dig you back up when they kill you
And hollow your skull for my wine

Indeed the more you look into the lyrics, the less clear things become. Is Balu a lover? A magical entity? A monster? The bear from The Jungle Book?

But the words that Garvey throws around, proudly and defiantly pronouncing words in his native Mancunian accent, are colourful and full of fascinating images, like this one:

Saw the Magi sleep on a subway train

And this one:

I split for a tryst with a rust belt girl with a Plantagenet fringe

When Garvey sings:

If you can’t reach for the next branch up, I’ll sing to you

You do start to wonder if Balu is an animal after all.

This fascinating lyrical content is all well and good, but what really makes “Balu” fly is the instrumentation.

A beat from a snare introduces a luscious keyboard riff that an 80s electro-pop band would be jealous of, with a lovely ascending fuzzy bass alongside it. The keyboard riff goes round three times, where you’re expecting two or four, just to lightly upend your expectations that “Balu” will be in any way predictable.

Then Garvey sings to the bare bones of drums and an occasional guitar stab until the full chorus again, repeating this mysterious creature’s name over and over.

In the second verse, Garvey sees Balu walking on the moon which is even more confusing. But before a second chorus gets a look in, there’s a lovely break for a horn section to jump in, and when they return to the chorus, female voices have joined in the name chant and the song reaches a crescendo.

Garvey is like a street poet who should be world weary, but sees the glimmers of sunlight between the pollution-fogged buildings. With “Balu” he and Elbow have created a worthy addition to their catalogue. It’s the kind of song drivers everywhere will want to break the speed limit to, that long haired rockers will want to shake their hair to.

And within it, Balu remains a mysterious figure, a mythical creature wrapped in confounding poetry and the grooviest of tunes.