Album released this week in… 2003: Elbow – Cast of Thousands
ELBOW have graciously been giving listeners the sort of music that can only be described as ‘art’ for nearly a decade and a half. Guy Garvey and co have been nothing short of National Treasures when it comes to music, winning countless awards, playing to sell out crowds, appearing in the 2012 London Olympics, and gaining popularity all around the world. Many would agree that their rise to fame came with the release of their 2009 album The Seldom Seen Kid, which won the mercury prize that year, taking the quintet from Bury on a lengthy sell out tour, including an amazing performance in Wembley.
The rise of a musician/band can only go as far back as their song or album that breached the walls of mainstream media, and in most occasions, this is sadly true. Many people seem to forget that before the explosion of Seldom Seen Kid, Elbow was an indie powerhouse underground, a band which has been excelling ten years before their big break; and to put it simply, it is a shame. A huge shame that Cast of Thousands is not known as a recognisable ensemble of Elbow’s greatest hits post-Seldom Seen Kid.
Cast Of Thousands, released on the 18th August 2003, was very well received by pretty much everyone, with the ever so critical Pitchfork Media giving them a 7.8 rating. One of the main reasons this album is so influential(and why I am so eager to review it) is that it is one of the few albums that successfully gave us a fresh OK Computer. After Radiohead exploded everyone’s secluded minds after their huge 1997 album, there seemed to be a rush of imaginative experimentation which flooded the British music scene. A lot of successful bands and musicians were inspired by Radiohead, and rightly so, but Cast Of Thousands is the album which fundamentally caught the spirit of Radiohead’s exciting new feel while at the same time creating something dramatic and new; an experience, like OK Computer was. It is the reason Cast Of Thousands is not recognised quite as well as Seldom Seen Kid, or Build A Rocket Boys!, as it didn’t have any obvious singles; it was more the collectiveness of the album that stood out, rather than one individual song as ‘Grounds For Divorce’ was for Seldom Seen Kid. Where for Elbow’s fifth album, Build A Rocket Boys!, it is obvious where the slow big show-ending ballads are, whereas in Cast Of Thousands, it is in itself a wonderful forty-four minute montage of Elbow’s love to its supporters and fans.
Elbow are commonly placed in the ‘lovey-dubbey-but-it’s-not-cheesy-it’s-really-nice’ pile in most music collections(Don’t tell me you don’t have a ‘lovey-dubbey…’ pile!?). Guy Garvey’s lyrics are poetry, detailing stories of personal demons, his love affairs, the lives of his friends, and everyday emotions, all accompanied beautifully by the music blending side by side with his words. The band were able to channel this later on with orchestras, an array of different instruments, and new experiences, but it is Cast Of Thousands where the music is at its most pure. Elbow’s first album Asleep In The Back was an honest and dark representation of rural city life, an effortless blend of sombre and melancholy experimentation which was nicely mixed in with a hefty amount of love for their second album. It’s hard to pinpoint and explain every single song on Cast Of Thousands. All the singles roll together so well that you can’t help but drown in the uplifting choruses and the wave-like orchestra in the background. Nowhere is this more obvious that in ‘Fugitive Motel’ and ‘Ribcage’, both sweeping you around like a piece of driftwood in the sea. The lyrics are a joy to listen to, perfect vocal illustrations and personal emotions of one man’s love for another. What better way to show love to another than recording your 2003 Glastonbury audience to sing ‘We still believe in love, so fuck you’ over and over again at the end of the final song of the album, ‘Grace Under Pressure’. Those lyrics alone, with the added bonus of it being sung by an entire festival audience, is just breath taking and a wonderful send off to the album. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.
Cast Of Thousands is an emotionally touching album that needs to be experienced right the way through. It will quickly pass through your ears, most of the individual tracks will be forgotten, the lyrics will fade in time, but in that moment you will hear devotion, personal appreciation, and a hell of a lot of love coming from the lyrics and the music. This album was made for the listener, the way a hugely underappreciated album should be.