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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Elbow
Leaders Of The Free World
V2

Rating: 7.5/10 ?


May 16, 2006
The playground is a little bigger, but the behavior is the same. As Elbow's Guy Garvey sees it, "The leaders of the free world are all little boys throwing stones," and the worst bully of them all is the Bush Administration. So, if that's the case, does that make the United Nations the most ineffectual principal's office in history then? Ah, if only they'd bring back corporal punishment.

Actually, it's Garvey who should get a rap on the knuckles for using such a hackneyed analogy in the brawling, anti-Bush title track off Elbow's third album. It sucks some of the venom from lines in which Garvey talks of "Passing the gun from father to feckless son" and imagines the senior Bush lamenting, "I didn't raise a thief." Garvey recovers though, adding the words "And it's easy to ignore till their knocking on the door of your homes" to his acidic rebuke of politicians and the song's stomping piano, measured hand claps, vaudevillian rhythmic march and guitar lines that sting like broken promises.

A rousing, if somewhat simplistic, condemnation of the Bush Administration and Tony Blair's cloying acquiescence to the war in Iraq, the song "Leaders Of The Free World" is a powerful rallying cry for the left and it pretty much sums up how much of Europe feels about G-dub. Still, it's odd that Elbow chose this to be the centerpiece of a mostly brilliant, though occasionally lackluster, album that's more about crumbling interpersonal relationships, chance meetings with ex-lovers and Garvey's love for Elbow's adopted hometown of Manchester, England, than it is about geo-political outrage.

Another in a slow trickle of Brit-pop epics from Elbow, Leaders Of The Free World is just the band's third record in its 14-year existence, and if you liked the others, chances are this one won't disappoint - especially with bonus features that include a DVD on the making of the record. Favorite tactics, like dazzling, kaleidoscopic choruses and glistening acoustic guitar, get a lot of play. "I Forget Myself" is an aural Cirque du Soleil that trumps anything Doves have ever done. Think of an open-air stadium at night with all the lights off, and then, a worker trips the switch to turn on all the huge banks of bulbs lining the facility and they go off in succession, bathing the field in brilliant white. That's what it's like to experience "I Forget Myself."

More humble in scope, "The Stops" is Elbow's take on traditional English folk, with a rowboat of lovely acoustic strum drifting into dark, starry atmospherics. Luminous and elegant, "The Everthere" and "My Very Best," with its sweeping strings, have a soft glow and fleeting gentility to them that is classic and timeless. Nothing, however, tops "Imagined Affair." Ensconced in rich baritone backing vocals, the aching arrangement has a lazy current that sucks you in, and Garvey, playing the bar stool poet laureate to the hilt, toys drunkenly with descriptive metaphors, saying he'll drink " until the doorman is a Christmas tree" as gorgeous, bittersweet piano throws you out onto a snowy sidewalk lit by red and green neon.

Like Asleep In The Back, Elbow's 2001 Mercury Prize nominee, there's a bit of an edge to Leaders Of The Free World. Nervous, clattering percussive elements, thrown into the fray at the beginning of "Forget Myself," seem out of place, interrupting the beautiful sequencing montage Elbow has created. And when Elbow switches to a harder, more electric sound, like in "Mexican Standoff," the effect is jarring and a little off-putting. But give Elbow credit for trying to tweak a formula that's turned slightly stale and given the band an almost faceless quality. And, in the end, it's impossible to resist the magnetic force and confetti bombast of a song like the triumphant "Station Approach," one of the best homecoming songs ever. Talking about Manchester, Garvey sings, in that well-worn croon of his, "Coming home, I feel like I/ Designed the buildings I walk by." It all looks so familiar, which is also how Leaders Of The Free World sounds to those who've followed Elbow lo these many years. That's not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, Elbow is a band you can count on for consistently beautiful, majestic music that, despite its progressive tendencies, never sounds over-blown or pretentious.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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