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09 septembre 2005

ELBOW Leaders of the Free World (V2)

ELBOW Leaders of the Free World

You'll need the help of Job when listening to Elbow's new album for the first time. Leaders of the Free World, the group's third record, is the slowest of slow-burners - with maybe half a dozen plays required before it eventually hits the spot. But it is well worth persisting.

An initial reaction of Athlete-like blandness makes way for little nuggets of quirky charm and an adventure story-book excitement - as the songs unfold one by one revealing a cluster of warm textured sounds and lush, on the whole, understated arrangements.

The material, which in the group's own words is "prog rock without the solos", is perfectly suited to Guy Garvey's haunting Peter Gabriel-esque vocals. Like Gabriel, Garvey can carry a tune even when the music is stripped down - sparse even.

Songs over four minutes long won't be everyone's cup of tea - particularly when there's a pervading sense of doom and gloom in around half of them. But Leaders of The Free World does pack a punch among all the poignancy and depths of despair. Mexican Standoff and the stirring opener Station Approach are two of the more boisterous numbers - and also the best on show.

BBC Collective* :

Coldplay by candlelight.

While Coldplay translated a similarly expansive sound into mega-sales, Elbow can take consolation in critical kudos. Fixed on the pop ley-line that links XTC’s pastoral epic Skylarking to Robert Wyatt’s serene Rock Bottom, their third album nails Guy Garvey’s blend of poignancy and pathos perfectly. Opener Station Approach sets a lusciously understated tone as Leaders Of The Free World unfurls as a bombast-free alternative to stadium rock. A big noise perhaps, but a pleasantly cuddly one, too.

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