Cast Of Thousands


V2, 2004

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


On their sophomore effort Cast Of Thousands, Manchester, UK’s Elbow sounds much less gloomier than on their debut, Asleep In The Back. But the eccentricity of creating the unpredictable still plays a huge part in the songwriting process on this disc. Like the nearly hymnal “Grace Under Pressure,” which is five minutes of simply the chorus repeating itself. Or the elegantly somber “Switching Off,” where just a simple clap of a tambourine stands out as the focal musical instrument. But making sense of the unimaginable is what made Elbow’s debut so stunning, and the seeming lack of any great musical idea in the above two songs a concept so brilliantly executed.

Cast Of Thousands has no tracks like “New Born” or “Red” that stand out as instant classics. The songs here are less exciting, making it far more difficult to be immediately captivated. And the sluggish pace of the record doesn’t help the cause either. Though not as dark or melancholic as one would expect, the songs are still tortured and emanate a gloomy sense of weirdness that takes a while to get used to. Even the more catchy ones like “Snooks (Progress Report),” in spite of its bucolic foot-tapping beat, comes with a benevolent chorus marred with a creepy scream at the end that startles no matter how many times you have listened to it; still, this venomous thorn somehow makes sense in the calm rusticity of this number.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There are songs like “I Got Your Number” and “Crawling With Idiot” that aren’t inherently dark but are still ridden with elements that doom them to be, such as singer Guy Garvey’s vocals; usually they make the perfect channel for his emotional turmoil to emerge, but in this case are so cleverly disguised and achingly impassive that they are almost unsettling.

Despite the lack of any immediate life-altering classics, Cast Of Thousands offers some perfect radio-hits in the likes of “Not A Job,” “Ribcage,” and “Fallen Angel.” Those cuts might not necessarily be the best on the album, but they do make an instant impression on the listener until the time the rest of the record makes any real sense. And after it finally does, songs like “Lay Down Your Cross” and “Whisper Grass” easily take over as the favorites. On a side note, “Lay Down Your Cross” and “Whisper Grass” are available only on the US version of the album.

From the look and feel of Asleep In The Back, Elbow gave a clear impression that they want to reach for the weird and unusual within the realm of their Brit folk style. And although Cast Of Thousands doesn’t throw uncomfortable surprises, it continues in the similar vein while at the same time not sounding like an extension of the debut. This follow-up is not as good as their first, but it is still an amazing effort by one of the finest and most underrated bands of this decade.

Rating: B+

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