V2 Music Limited – 2003 – 50 mins
Ten years for their first album, and a more standard two years for its follow-up. The decade it took Elbow to put out their debut was surely an eye-opening education in the merciless machinations of the music industry. Two years on, and it seems they are now learning that with success comes pressure. Where 'Asleep in the Back' was the sleeper hit of 2001, Elbow no longer have the luxury of being able to sneak up unnoticed on the blind side.
'Cast of Thousands' is therefore likely to divide and bemuse audiences more than the band would probably wish. It starts promisingly enough, with bruising slow-burner 'Ribcage' benefiting from key input from the London Community Gospel Choir. From here the album features not a single fully-fledged gem, but rather flashes of inspiration - charging single 'Fallen Angel', the lovelorn misty-eyed 'Fugitive Motel' and the sexy yet sexless 'Buttons and Zips'.
But Elbow are hard work. There's little here that's instantly accessible, and sometimes it feels like you're stuck in a dream-like loop. Maybe even Elbow themselves don't exactly know what they have. They lack Radiohead's fully-realised vision, and Doves' sense of melody. Yet they do have something. It's hard to quite nail it but with a few more tunes and less wilful meandering, this Manchester five-piece could deliver a bona-fide classic.
For the moment though, too many lazy percussions and unfocused arrangements make 'Cast of Thousands' a prog rock album with no clear idea where it wants to be.
Tracklisting: Ribcage – Fallen Angel – Fugitive Motel – Snooks (Progress Report) – Switching Off – Not A Job – I’ve Got Your Number – Buttons and Zips – Crawling With Idiot – Grace Under Pressure – Flying Dream