- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004


Cast of Thousands

V2 Records

In the universe of dream-pop inhabited by the British band Elbow, something like a guitar solo would be a rude interruption from slumber an early-morning sales call or a rowdy noise from a party next door.

On its moody, ethereal sophomore album, “Cast of Thousands,” in stores next week, Elbow doesn’t stir itself often, but when it does, you notice as on the blurts of distorted rage on “Snooks (Progress Report)” and Craig Potter’s acid-y organ interlude on “I’ve Got Your Number,” which could have wandered off an old Steppenwolf LP.

Even these aren’t wake-up calls exactly; they’re intense moments of a full rest cycle. Still, in music as in life, a catnap can be an enormously satisfying thing.

Singer Guy Garvey murmurs in and out of the delicate Elbow soundscape like an even sleepier Chris Martin (of Coldplay and Gwyneth Paltrow repute).

When he does push himself he’s stone beautiful on the ballad “Switching Off” there are hints of Peter Gabriel and Michael Stipe.

For extra juice, Elbow turns to the London Community Gospel Choir on “Ribcage” and “Grace Under Pressure,” the album’s redemptive penultimate song.

On “Grace,” Elbow also gets a vocal assist from a literal cast of thousands. Spliced onto the end of the track is a sing-along from an audience at a 2002 concert in Glastonbury, England. (Get this: The band credits as many of them as it could find, by name, in the liner notes. How’s that for fan appreciation?)

“Grace” is the standout track here by a mile. Beginning with an intro from guitarist Mark Potter that quotes Jimmy Page’s work on “The Rain Song,” it swells into a hypnotic raga, with Mr. Garvey and the accompanying choral singers repeating the song’s one and only stanza: “Grace under pressure / Cooling palm across my brow / Eyes of an angel / Lay me down.”

By the time the Glastonbury crowd wanders in, you already have been transported into the presence of something large. One small gripe about the lyrics throughout: Mr. Garvey is usually a model of Hemingway-esque restraint when it comes to words. On “Not a Job,” he captures the state of a romance who’s in control, who’s gone batty with a pithy six-word taunt: “Leave me and the plants die.”

Here and there, though, he betrays a weakness for poetic affectation.

“You, the only sense the world has ever made” what’s with the tricky comma? What’s wrong with “You’re the only sense “? The line loses nothing for the simplification.

When he drags himself out of bed, Mr. Garvey should peruse a copy of Strunk and White.

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