According to some sources, the debut album by Elbow (Asleep In The Back) took something like 10 years to write and record. Considering that a majority of bands come and go in an amount of time much less than that, it's rather commendable that the group stuck it out, and with Cast Of Thousands arriving just over a year after the release of that other disc, it seems that they're not going to get into a habit of only creating an album a decade.
Whereas my problem with the first album was that it seemed to be overguessed a little too much, my major problem with the second one seems to be that they simply weren't judicious enough when it came to final cuts. The whole affair starts out great with "Ribcage," as the track builds from a gurgle to a full-fledged orchestral-rock anthem (somewhat akin to Spiritualized) over the course of six and a half minutes. The vocals of Guy Garvey are as smooth as ever, and the track builds with a graceful swoop that makes it seem far less lengthy than its actual running time.
One of the things that bothered me about the last album by the group (that things were just a little too polished) doesn't apply nearly as much on this release. The group is often using interesting percussion (filtered or not) and on a track like "Snooks (Progress Report)," they let loose with bursts of noise that are pointed enough that makes me wonder if their record label let them have a little more control with the disc. It's not even until about halfway through the disc that it stumbles a bit. "I've Got Your Number" is a shuffling track that picks up slightly with some bursts of gritty organ, but never really goes much of anywhere while "Buttons And Zips" strips the group sound down a bit without great effect.
Even with a bit of a soggy middle-section, Elbow is still making some very interesting music on this sophomore release. "Grace Under Pressue" is another choral-backed (in this case, thousands of people at Glastonbury singing along with the group) track that's one of the best tracks on the disc with furious drumming and multiple layers of hazy organs and guitars while "Switching Off" is a lovely, sweeping epic that bubbles with just a touch of electronics and building with dramatic washes. Overall, a small step up for the group, but not quite the masterpiece that they might very well be capable of.