Because of its protracted Stateside rollout, the britpap pubsters of Elbow have watched their newest album (or “their last album” at this late date) go from recipient of predictable glory in the pages of Q and on the server of Stylus Magazine to the bearer of retracted enthusiasm in, well, Stylus Magazine. Well, I guess if you live by the hand of the terminally indecisive, you die by the hand of the terminally indecisive. Personally, I probably wouldn’t have even given the band a second thought were it not for their live cover of Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women” and the kitty-overload internet music video by the guy who did those creepy Quizno’s ads. I know what goes through the minds of sour, mopey indie bands whenever they perform one of these blazing, “ironic” pop covers, and it’s usually pretty condescending. (No matter how successfully they pull off the tribute, you can practically hear them telling barmates afterwards that “yeah, I love that song, even if everything else they’ve done is shite.”) Is anyone surprised when self-loathing seekers of post-ironic self-delusion turn on their own? Especially given that nearly every journalist covering Elbow begins by detailing the group’s progression through the bigger, more established acts whose sound they most closely mimic (pre-glitch Radiohead, Travis). To that pile, I submit that Leaders Of The Free World adds Wilco. (Producer Marcus de Vries gives three of the songs a Foxtrot-worthy gloss.) The album is a reverb-laced dirge, a slow-motion version of “you’re prettier after three beers.” Unfortunately, Elbow’s lyrics—while plenty fatigued, especially coming from the disinterested vocal cords of lead singer Guy Garvey—are pretty sober. “Mexican Standoff” is a cagey, passive-aggressive dialogue from a man working out the exact kiss-off line he only wishes he had given to his ex-girlfriend. Funny thing about kiss-off lines, they always sound better in theory than they do in practice, but the Bush-baiting coda on the title track—“Passing the gun from the Father to FECKLESS son/We’re climbing a landslide where only the good die young”—is preferable to the same track’s confirmation of my worst suspicions about those aforementioned pop covers: “The music always gives me a lift/I’m so easy to please/But I think we dropped the baton like the ‘60s didn’t happen. Oh no.” Memo to rockists: Stop whining and learn to fight fire with fire. Hell, even Destiny’s Child had “Soldier.”
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