A/V Room









Elbow - Cast of Thousands

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 them.

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 Guy’s 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


Track listing:
1. Ribcage
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

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