A Cast of Thousands
is an appropriate title for Elbow's sophomore effort, even if it is an understatement. The Manchester quintet is joined by at least that many backing musicians and vocalists this time around, resulting in a credit list as lengthy as the ones that follow most major motion pictures. French horn blowers, trombonists, the London Community Gospel Choir and the entire crowd at the Glastonbury music festival are but a few of the players on hand this go-round. What's interesting is how Elbow manages to take all of these noisemakers and rein them in enough that tracks such as "Crawling with Idiot" come out sounding downright minimalist. Elbow had been tagged a poor man's Coldplay following the release of its windswept 2001 debut, Asleep in the Back
, an epic shoe-gazer wallowing in its own despair. Things aren't much cheerier on Thousands
, but the group seems more confident in its ability to make the smallest sound possible. (Vocalist Guy Garvey once joked that Elbow is a prog-rock act minus the wankster solos.) It's refreshing to hear these oh-so-reserved Brits cut loose somewhat on the limber slacker rock of "Buttons and Zips," a medium-tempo dirge that's about as sprightly as Elbow gets.