I really wish it were possible to discuss British alternative bands without mentioning Radiohead — but unfortunately, it seems well nigh impossible these days. In Elbow’s case it not only seems like a misnomer, but also a gross disservice. While the Radiohead comparison does hold some water, Cast of Thousands is much deeper and more fully-realized than might be implied by such an obvious comparison.
One can hear shades of the haunting sparseness of Talk Talk and Bark Psychosis, as well as of the lush eclecticism of David Sylvian and perhaps even Peter Gabriel. Much of that is due to Guy Garvey’s breathy vocals, who, like Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis and The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, possesses a gift for breathing all sorts of life and sincerity into his words.
Despite opening on a somewhat shaky note with the very Spiritualized-esque “Ribcage,” complete with a soaring gospel choir (I wonder if J. Spaceman has looked into litigation yet?), Cast of Thousands blazes through its own unique territory. An astonishing array of sounds and atmospherics wind their way through Elbow’s songs. Sometimes they breathe and wheeze subtly and sometimes, as in the case of the metallic vocal squalls of “Snooks (Progress Report)” or the tortured organ of “I’ve Got Your Number,” they erupt and threaten to rend apart the song.
And even in the album’s most bombastic moments (gospel choirs notwithstanding), such as the closing seconds of “Grace Under Pressure,” which feature the entire crowd of Glastonbury 2002 singing “We still believe in love so fuck you” (So that’s where they got the album title!), there’s an astonishing amount of intimacy and sincerity at work, which makes Cast of Thousands that much more compelling.