Friday, August 11, 2006

From the Vault - Cast of Thousands

Recently I was given as a gift the fantastic critical list '1001 Albums you must hear before you die', the purpose of which is quite self explanatory. Now, with any critical list, there will be disagreements, and I tend to avoid attacking these lists with a great deal of vigour, understanding the intrinsically subjective nature of music. However, on that list was missing 2 absolutely seminal records of the past 5 years (in their place, I might add, was Destiny's Child's Survivour). One was the Shins' Chutes Too Narrow, and the other was this.
Cast of Thousands was a bolt from the blue. Having established some critical acclaim with the overrated, yet Mercury award winning Asleep in the Back, Elbow's sophomore effort was anticipated with some trepidation. Would it be more gloomy, undergratuate (yet admittedly, very beautiful) doom-rock, or something else? The answer was the latter, in the most emphatic manner possible.
Opening with the jumpy, neo-radiohead beeping that has taken over the world, 'Ribcage' quickly morphs into a pounding, repetitious gospel number filled with swelling choral sounds more at home in a US baptist church than a quintisentially British love song.
In fact the opening 5 songs are nothing less than essential. 'Fallen Angel' with it's buzzsaw bass and glorious mid-song breakdown, 'Fugitive Motel', all desperately longing strings and heart-tugging lyrics 'I'll blow you a kiss/It should reach you tomorrow/as it flies from/the other side of the world'. These are followed by one of the most devastating one-two punches in modern music. 'Snooks (Progress Report)' is a tribal drum-driven ode to something about dodgy friends or other, while 'Switching Off' is undoubtedly the centrepiece. With frontman Guy Garvey singing like he's underwater, Elbow deliver an astonishingly touching portrait of undying love, with a chorus that could bring the most mean-hearted to tears.
The jazz-lounge menace of 'I've Got Your Number' can still send shivers up the spine when the fingernails-down-the-blackboard organ kicks in, and the crowd at Glastonbury singing along on 'Grace Under PRessure' is always thrilling (hence the title of the record.
This is, without doubt, one of the highlights of British music for the past 25 years, and that's saying something.
Absolutely essential.


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