Review: Jack Foley
IT WOULD be easy to write off Elbow as just another gloomy, melancholic
Brit band, who eschew the virtues of the alt-rock scene much in
the same way as Coldplay or Radiohead; only less spectacularly.
And there will be many who won't see beyond that, especially
as some of their tracks possess an air of pretentiousness about
But wait a minute, Elbow are well worth hanging out with, and
Cast of Thousands, their eagerly-anticipated follow-up
to the Mercury Music Prize nominated debut, Asleep
in the Back, is a quietly impressive album, which actually
possesses some incredibly uplifting moments.
Combining some memorable guitar riffs with some nice gospel choir
interludes, Cast of Thousands is a far more rewarding listen
than it would first seem.
Moody, for sure, but occasionally quite hopeful, and frequently
beautiful, particularly during its more expansive moments.
All this might not seem that obvious to those that fail to get
past the sprawling first track, Ribcage, with its melancholic
verses, and slow-building gospel chorus (the track has previously
been available to download), but current single, Fallen Angel,
should provide some clues to the fact that this is quite diverse.
The guitar riffs which permeate late on, especially, evoke memories
of classic Doves, while the delicious chorus ('choose your favourite
shoes and put your blues on cruise control') has to rate among
the finest lines of the year.
Elsewhere, the lively Snooks conjures memories of a really
laidback Chris Martin early on, before expanding into the type
of world music experiment that wouldn't sound out of place on
a latter-day Peter Gabriel album, especially during its haunting,
almost screeching, interludes.
This African vibe probably owes a lot to the presence of long-time
collaborator, Ben Hillier, who has also worked with Blur of late;
and who deliberately sought to adopt some new techniques and instrumentation
to move the elbow sound on from the first LP.
Hence, a pre tongue vocal was recorded for opening track, Ribcage,
by taping a flat mic to Guys larynx, whilst Grace Under
Pressure ends with a recording of the crowd from Glastonbury
2002, singing 'we still believe in love, so fuck you' - another
indication that the band isn't just about the darker side of life.
Grace Under Pressure, in particular, is a strong example
of Elbow at their most serene and beautiful (almost tear-inducingly
so), with its hymn-like feel and jittery drums, as is Not A
Job, with its gentle drum beats and folksy guitars helping
to underline the strength of Guy Garvey's tranquil vocals.
Likewise, Buttons and Zips, which puts the lie to claims
that Elbow are a sombre one-trick pony.
There are moments when the album does drift into the type of
mood music that is likely to be written off as boring and depressing
(such as Fugitive Motel, or I've Got Your Number),
but they are few and far between; especially if you really take
the time to listen to it.
In fact, the quality and style of most of the tracks is such
that it will probably feature on a number of year-end 'best of'
lists come December.
Related story: Elbow's
Leaders of the Free World reviewed
2. Fallen Angel
3. Fugitive Motel
4. Snooks (Progress Report)
5. Switching Off
6. Not A Job
7. I've Got Your Number
8. Buttons And Zips
9. Crawling With Idiot
10. Grace Under Pressure
11. Flying Dream 143