Saturday, March 22, 2008

Album Review: Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid (3.5/5)

My only previous exposure to Elbow was their 2004 album Cast of Thousands, which I have, but haven't listened to much. Their fourth album, The Seldom Seen Kid, has been getting stellar reviews, and I like the first single, so I thought I'd check it out. While not necessarily my sort of thing, there are some lovely moments and some certainly interesting compositions in set.

"Starlings" is atmospheric and weird--a song that opens mostly with mellow piano until it gets rudely punctuated by loud bursts of horns. The singer sounds like Chris Martin with a little more character. It's interesting, but not a winner. "The Bones of You" is a little better, more melodic and upbeat, although upbeat would be the exception here. The album hits its stride on "Mirrorball," which uses a lovely sort of repetition to atmospheric effect, along with warm strings. "Grounds for Divorce," the first single, is the kind of song that begs to be sung along to, like an old working song souped up with rock guitar and drums.

After that, the songs alternate between the strange and the sublime. "An Audience with the Pope" is an odd one, both in theme and its unusual mix of instruments. It's also too repetitive to interest me much. Admittedly, "Weather to Fly" is rather repetitive too, but I like it better. Here the horns create a warm middle section. Then there's "The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver," the album's epic climax. The track unfolds in its own time, pausing with an acoustic guitar borrowed from the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack, before swelling with strings, a deep vibrating instrument I can't place, electric guitar, and vocals. Then its back to oddity with "The Fix," which reminds me a bit of last year's The Good, The Bad and the Queen album.

"Some Riot" opens with distorted piano and other instruments. It's another moody, atmospheric piece, fairly minimal. "One Day Like This," one of the more upbeat and epic-sounding tracks, pushes its strings prominently forward in the mix. The song rings a strong note of hope, contrasting with some of the other more melancholy tracks. It's really quite lovely, not as sappy as it could be, striking that good balance like Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize?" does. It has a great ending too, the kind of song that begs to be played in a stadium before a swaying crowd of thousands singing along. The somber final track, "Friend of Ours," is dedicated to the band's friend, musician Bryan Glancy, who died 2 years ago. As such tributes go, it is moving and understated--well done.

I found much of The Seldom Seen Kid more interesting than enjoyable to listen to. It has a lot of lovely moments, creating a dramatic mix of atmospheres. Like art in a museum, I enjoyed the exhibit, but, save for a few choice pieces, I wouldn't necessarily want it all hanging in my house.

Best: One Day Like This, The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver, Grounds for Divorce, Mirrorball, Weather to Fly, Friend of Ours

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