British rockers Elbow say they play “progressive rock without the solos.” While the first half of that quote delighted me, the second half induced a wave of crushing disappointment. Progressive rock without solos is like a high-performance sports car with a transmission that’s pinned in first gear; though the vehicle seems capable of great things, it can’t even get on the freeway. Such is the case with Elbow’s new album, Cast of Thousands.
The modern era does not value virtuosity, and Elbow’s take on progressive rock reflects this tragic development. Everything on the album sounds like the intro to a classic prog-rock anthem, the first few suspense-building minutes before the epic, blazing electric guitar solo. Alas, the blazing never comes. Instead, all 13 cuts seem to fuse into one long, depressing dirge.
The ultra-melancholy lyrics tell of failed relationships, escapes into solitude and “the dream nobody understands.” Whereas the prog-rock of yesteryear kept adrenaline pumping through the veins of its fans, Cast of Thousands elicits a different mental image: legions of lovelorn 14-year-old girls sprawled on their beds, their rooms plastered with cutouts of Johnny Depp, knowing that no one has ever felt heartache as monumental as theirs.
It should be noted that the album comes bundled with a companion CD-ROM containing the cinematographically top-flight “Fallen Angel” and “Fugitive Motel” music videos, plus a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage of the band. Say what I will about Elbow’s music, this kind of fan service is truly admirable.
[Colin Marshall’s room is plastered with cutouts of Johnny Depp and he knows that nobody has ever felt heartache as monumental as his.]