Elbow - Cast of Thousands

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Elbow - Cast of Thousands

This album was a Christmas present from my brother, and came with the added bonus of a DVD pairing every song on the album with footage of Elbow playing live or fooling about in the studio, which was surprisingly interesting as these kinds of extras go. I've got — and love to bits — another of their albums, "Asleep in the Back", so I was really looking forward to hearing this one.

One of the things that I love about their music is the fact that they are clearly not super-attractive young men — no offence meant, guys! They seem to live life well, enjoy their food, and dress in slightly crumpled clothes, as if someone forgot to do the ironing. I like that. I also like the fact that they sing in their own (Northern) accents, rather than some odd mid-Atlantic drawl. This is particularly obvious on one or two of the tracks, and I find it really cheering.

Some people think that Elbow are similar to Coldplay and the like, but I think that they have a wryer, more laid-back, less tortured attitude. That's not to say that they are lightweight, though. Take the following lyric from the glorious 'Ribcage':

We blew the doors didn't we? Pissed in their champagne And did a real thing didn't we? Gave ourselves a name And peeled away the shame I wanted to explode To pull my ribs apart And let the sun inside

I love those last two lines — gruesome, but also somehow beautiful. The track starts off in a slightly plodding way, but builds up to a glorious gospel choir climax. 'Fallen Angel' has a driving, dirty rhythm which — for some reason — really makes me want to dance. The line "Choose your favourite shoes/And keep your blues on cruise control" reminds me inexplicably of Richard Burton reading the line in Under Milk Wood that goes "sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack".

There are very few weak songs on this album; 'Fugitive Motel' is a beautiful, yearning, lonely song, with a very pretty melody, and 'Switching Off' touches me in ways I can't explain. 'I've Got Your Number' is rather sinister and creepy, with some great mad organ playing. Even the chanted 'Grace Under Pressure' (with a backing band of the crowd at Glastonbury in 2002 — they are the cast of thousands, individually named in the liner notes) is fun.

It's really worth listening to the lyrics closely. I'd heard the album a few times before I caught the following lines in 'Flying Dream (143)', which made me laugh out loud:

Flying dream 143 I stretched out my arms And my feet left the floor And how all fifteen (ahem) stone flew to you I don't know

They're all right, are Elbow.

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