Every once in a while, a band comes out of nowhere that can amaze a new listener. Elbow is one of those bands. Their debut album, Asleep In the Back was critically acclaimed, surpassing Gold and even winning the Mercury Prize. Still, many people were missing out on Elbow. The British band eventually signed to V2 Records and released the near perfect Cast Of Thousands. With magnificent melodies, a maelstrom of romance, emotional vulnerability, and a unique voice, Elbow’s sophomore album is exceptional. Taking their name from a line in Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective, Elbow is led by Guy Garvey. While most of the songs have a slow or mid-tempo rhythm, the album never gets boring. Guy Garvey’s voice may not have a huge range but it is incredibly unique and filled with passion. Like Spiritualized, Slowdive, Mojave 3, and Damien Rice, Elbow’s songs are soundtracks for precious moments. Cast Of Thousands is a must-own CD for anyone who loves emotional songwriting, lush melodies, and post-shoegazer guitar work.
Cast Of Thousands has some wonderful songs that not only instantly grab the listener but also get better with age. The opening track, Ribcage, is a lush 6-minute long epic, which effectively uses The London Community Gospel Choir. During the recording of this song, they actually attached a small contact microphone to Garvey’s throat. At first, the slow rolling of the song does not instantly impress but as it goes on, it becomes magnificent. Garvey sings along with the choir backing him: “…And when the sunshine / Throwing me a lifeline / Finds it’s way into my room / All I need is you…” It is a glorious opening track.
Another emotional and poignant track is Lay Down Your Cross, which is one of the most memorable songs on the album. The elegant piano slowly drives the ballad. Garvey sounds so desperate and sad while appreciating and loving his lover. The chorus becomes this ethereal crescendo where he sings: “…Love, let me love / Love, let me love / Love, let me love / Let me love her again…” Sad and beautiful, Lay Down Your Cross, is one of the best songs on the album. Inspired by a passage on Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland album, I’ve Got Your Number is just as sad sounding but not as precious. Still, it creates a deliciously beautiful yet somewhat sinister atmosphere. The drums slowly roll along and the loud guitar solo adds to the overall feel of the track.
Many of the excellent songs take a couple of listens to sink in but once they do, they deserve to be appreciated. The second track, Fallen Angel, is very upbeat and uses loud, layered guitars that are reminiscent of the more up-tempo moments by Spiritualized, My Bloody Valentine, and Slowdive. Garvey’s voice is especially ethereal as he sings the hook: “…You don’t need to sleep alone / You bring the house down / Choose your favorite shoes and keep your blues on cruise control…” This track adds diversity to the album.
Not A Job is the latest single from the album. Although the tempo and rhythm is somewhat upbeat, the vocals and the melodies give the song an overall melancholy feel. The lush chorus, sung by Garvey, has a poignant sounding melody. Grace Under Pressure is more of a 2-part song that starts out slow but is given a strong kick with jungle-like drums that are not used on any other song on the LP. The London Community Gospel Choir is effectively used here too. Although the short set lyrics sound very precious, there is a little surprise lyric at the end, where the sound of the crowd, mixed in with the choir sings: “…We still believe in love so f*ck you…” Repeated over and over again, the precious feeling of the song is never lost. Recorded at the Glastonbury festival in 2003, many of the singers in the crowd are even credited on the inlay of the album.
“Whisper Grass” and “Crawling With An Idiot” are decent tracks and pack an emotional punch as well as a unique sound but they just do not stand as strong as the other songs. But perhaps they will grow on listeners too…
While the album is quite exceptional in many ways, there is one song that may turn people off. “Snooks (Progress Report)” starts off with an atmospheric melody and very British sounding vocals but the loud and cacophonic guitar squealing can wake someone up out of a coma. Even though it is a good song, it breaks the flow of the album a bit.
Cast Of Thousands is truly an exceptional album filled with lush, epic soundscapes and emotional vocals and lyrics. While they do feel similar to Spiritualized, Slowdive, and Mojave 3 at times, Elbow are truly unique. Garvey’s voice is unlike anyone else’s voice in music today. The use of the choir is also a nice touch. Elbow are extremely proficient at creating emotional soundscapes that are perfect for romantic drives, and as such, Elbow’s Cast Of Thousands should have fans by the thousands.
Cast of Thousands (2003)
Genre: Indie pop
Record Label: V2