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AboutOr Who Are You - And What Have You Done With Elbow?

A lot of bands come roaring out of the blocks full of youthful passion and claiming to be in it 'for the long haul'.
They make a great debut album and then stall or run out of gas. elbow have done it the other way round. Not that they're exactly the Buena Vista Social Club of rock'n'roll. But it took them ten years to write their Mercury shortlisted debut album, "Asleep In The Back".

Now on new LP, "Cast of Thousands" and with a weight of experience behind them that is surely unique for a band making only its second album, they have come up with a record even more adventurous and startling in its panoramic sweep and emotional potency.

"'Asleep In the Back' was the best of ten years work, so there was no way we could do that again," says bassist Pete Turner. "I think with the new album we've ended up with the same sort of attention to detail and willingness to experiment. But it was made in a pressure cooker, so it has a very different vibe."

The result is an album of powerfully melodic, tightly structured songs but which, at the same time, is a full of sonic adventure and a momentum that moves elbow far beyond the achievements of "Asleep In The Back".

" On "Cast of Thousands", we went looking for some new noises," as singer Guy Garvey puts it.

They found them as the core band (Garvey and Turner plus drummer Richard Jupp, keyboard player Craig Potter and guitarist Mark Potter ) are joined by a cast of thousands, including members of fellow Manchester bands Doves and Alfie, the London Community Gospel Choir, a string section and the entire crowd at Glastonbury, memorably singing "we still believe in love, so fuck you."

It's a line that is emblematic of the new album. Love wasn't a word that was used once on the first album. On "Cast of Thousands" it appears 40 times in one song.

Garvey's lyrics were one of the most striking aspects of the first album, causing The Guardian to dub him "a master of arresting imagery". Yet here, his writing is richer and more lyrical than ever before, laced with wit and flashes of optimism, while still retaining the band's famously dark style.

"I'd say the songs are just on the right side of hopeful but with our usual twisted doom factor," he explains. "The first record was ten years of experience put into as few words as possible. I thought this album would be lighter. I didn't expect to unearth any demons. But they came tumbling out, anyway."

Of course, being elbow, you wouldn't expect there to have been anything easy about the making of "Cast of Thousands".

True, this time around they weren't being dropped, kicked, shafted or otherwise generally fucked over by the industry. "We wondered how it would be on the second album because we had such a good story first time around," Garvey says.

Which is one way of putting it. Another might be to call it a ten-year saga of trauma, knock-backs and disappointments - at the end of which perseverance and sheer bloody-mindedness triumph.

To recap. Taking their name from a line in Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, after years toiling away in Manchester, Elbow had signed to Island in 1998.

Then in 1999, as they were close to completing their debut LP with Steve Osborne, Island was bought out along with the rest of the Polygram group by Seagram and the band were dropped.

EMI stepped into the void and then, with the band en route to sign, stepped out again.

The new millennium opened with them back in part time jobs and with an album but no label.

A less resilient bunch would have given up. But Manchester independent, Uglyman Records, offered them a two EP deal and, following the first release "Newborn" in August 2000, Elbow signed to V2.

After a second EP for Uglyman Records, "Any Day Now", the long-delayed first LP, "Asleep In The Back" appeared in 2001 and was immediately hailed by Uncut as "the most assured, imaginative and inventive debut album by a UK band this year."

The other reviews were equally glowing. The album surpassed gold and came within a whisker of winning the Mercury Music Prize, a Brit nomination for best new band duly followed.

So life has of late been pretty good to elbow. Yet it seems there still had to be that element of struggle and adversity to bring out the best in them.

The making of "Cast of Thousands" began well enough with a highly productive three week stay on the Isle of Mull, spent writing and demo-ing new songs in a converted church, when they weren't skiving off to go sea fishing.

But when at the end of 2002, they moved into Liverpool's Parr Street studios with producer Ben Hillier, (the same combination which had produced "Asleep In the Back"), the tension was almost unbearable.

"Although great things were happening musically, we were on a razor' edge, " Pete Turner recalls. "We hit the wall. It was very uncomfortable."

Unlike Asleep In The Back, where the songs were all ready and waiting to go, the tunes on the new record were being completed as they were recorded. "We felt like we were rolling a boulder up a hill," Garvey says.

One Saturday morning, when the others had returned to Manchester for the weekend and he had stayed behind to work on his lyrics, Garvey sat down over breakfast in a cafe in Liverpool and tried to analyse the problem in his diary.

"Avoid clichés. Songwriting isn't coal mining," he wrote.

Then he reflected on the band's success since the first album.

The gold record on his mum's wall, next to his sister's graduation photos. The five star reviews. The Mercury Music Prize nomination. The sold-out American tours. "It didn't sink in for months. Then it's top that," he wrote. "Do it again. And do it better. Deep breath."

The pressure was telling and the band decided to take a three week break and get some perspective.

When they reconvened, the atmosphere was markedly different. "It massively assisted the process," says Pete Turner. "Once we'd boiled down the argument, we realised we were so wrapped up in making the record, we weren't expressing ourselves to each other".

With the tension aired, the band felt liberated to make the record they had always wanted. "It was only when we came back we realised we COULD make a better album that the first one," says Garvey. "We knew we were going somewhere different. Somewhere bolder. But nobody felt that until we took the break."

Also vital in the process was the role of Ben Hillier, whose other credits include Blur's Think Tank, and is fast emerging as the best young producer in Britain.

"He kept his head while we were losing ours," says Garvey. "His philosophy is to allow you to do things that you're not supposed to do on records. If you have even a seed of an idea, he points a Dictaphone at you and says 'put it down'."

For much of the time, different members of the band were working in three different rooms on different songs, while Garvey was in a fourth room finishing lyrics. "It was like a sound factory," he says.

Then the final phase involved moving south, to complete the album at the Dairy in Brixton, Hillier's own stomping ground.

When the band listened back to "Cast of Thousands" it wasn't the album any of them had expected to make at the beginning of the process.

"We threw everything at the wall and what stuck wasn't necessarily the things we anticipated," explains Guy.

The result is that the LP is an album of breathtaking diversity, and yet with an overall cohesion that makes it almost invidious to pick out individual tracks.

Yet each song has its own story.

"Grace Under Pressure" was written in Mull. "Maybe it was because we were staying in a church. But we always knew the song demanded a gospel choir," says Garvey. The extraordinary drum sound on the track is also indicative of the elbow approach. "They were cut up from a jam and edited. But that's not how we like to work, so Jupp then learned to play it live."

On "Ribcage", Hillier came up with the idea of attaching a small contact mike to Garvey's throat. "It's really strange because you don't hear any of the syllables We reckon it's the first pre-tongue vocal ever recorded," the singer says.

"I've Got Your Number" (originally called "Lovely Bit Of Veg"), was inspired by a passage on Jimi Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland" album. "We're proud of our influences so I'm happy to say that," Garvey notes. "Then I gave it a really nasty lyric.It's about a complete fucker."

"Snooks" - a reference to the blind New Orleans blues singer, Snooks Eaglin - is sub-titled "Progress Report", for it maps out what as happened to Elbow since the last album. "We got into fishing and Jupp had a baby, the first one of us. So we're all feeling more grown up and getting proper lives," Garvey says.

"Fugitive Motel" is about the long-distance love affairs which several of the band have been forced to conduct over the last couple of years and was inspired by a stay in a motel in Austin, Texas.

"It was right by the freeway with a dirty little swimming pool and you just know people who have committed crimes were staying there," Garvey recalls. "The influence of travel on the songs is strong because between the first and second records we saw the world for the first time."

Seeing the world. Topping that. Doing it again. And doing it better, you might say. Which with "Cast of Thousands" is exactly what elbow have just gone and done.

Legnépszerűbb Dalok (Több)

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