Melancholy is never too far away, but its presence can make the resolution and peace...
Lucy Davies 2003
There is a lot of joy within Elbow's second album. It's very emotional - after my first few listens I could only listen to it every other day. This meant I could carry on with normal life and not succumb to an Elbow-esque obsession!
Cast Of Thousands is recorded in a sparse, intimate setting, with occasional bursts of outside elements (namely, a dog, a Glastonbury crowd and the London Community Gospel Choir). It's a classic grower whose songs stand out for very different reasons. Each tune has at least two conflicting emotions. Melancholy is never too far away, but its presence can make the resolution and peace derived from these beautiful songs seem all the sweeter.
The album opens painfully with "Ribcage" which metaphorically looks at the inner struggle of pulling one's ribs apart to let the sun inside. An impressive start made all the more worthwhile by a gospel choir and kisses.
The wonderful "I've Got Your Number" begins as a bubble of repressed venom with words of psychotic potential, which then gets blown through the roof by a joint frenzy of guitars and keyboards. "Grow a f****** heart, love" sings Garvey. You get the impression that whoever this song is aimed at ought to hide under the table until the songwriter has left the room.
"Buttons And Zips" is a cheery, catchy number which includes lists of past friends, memories of the "blossom shed" and some plain old lust. The note by note falling of the chorus makes you feel like life's patterns are all inevitable, almost tedious, yet the lazy beat gives steady comfort.
There are some really colourful moments - the screaming guitar in "Snooks" ought to come with a warning, and the drumming of "Grace Under Pressure" is just fantastic. This is the one truly joyful song on the album, taking an unassuming melody and lifting it with backing vocals from the Glastonbury fans, those drums and the organ.
And there are some great lyrics and melodies -"Not A Job" is a very kind, gentle song, with lovely backing vocals and a reassuring message to any friend in need. "Switching Off" is a poetic number, reminiscent of REM.
This is a great album, whose emotional capacity belies some sophisticated instrumentation. It's definitely worth a few hundred listens.