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Leaders Of The Free World
V2 Records

Leaders Of The Free World is the third album from Manchester-based group Elbow and it is something beautiful. Not every day does a record come out that is both a complex work of art and accessible music that people will be singing along with at increasingly large venues. Spanning the landscape of love, regret and drinking, the band recorded Leaders Of The Free World over the course of a year in its own Manchester studio while filmmakers The Soul Collective captured it all on a DVD that will be released with the album. The result is an album of such beauty and nuance that I can only believe it is destined to bring Elbow into the big leagues.

The first time I listened to this album, Guy Carvey's voice reminded me somewhat of Peter Gabriel. After several listens, however, and particularly in the context of Elbow's textured, emotionally evocative music, it reminded me also of a rougher, looser version of John Grant of The Czars. There is a gravelly, lived-in quality to Carvey's voice that draws the listener into an easily identified with world of grown-up observations and experience. Even though there are songs that raise the energy on Leaders Of The Free World, overall the album is well suited for an introspective listen, preferably whilst looking out the rain splattered window of a northern city bus.

"Station Approach" is an ode to coming home, depleted from your life away, and taking strength from the familiarity of your city - namely, Manchester. "Picky Bastard," which reminded me of Talking Heads' "Take Me To The River" at the outset with its plucking, percussive guitar, is basically about drinking yourself silly to keep from thinking about how useless and small we are. "Forget Myself," which has the potential to be one of those festival sing-along crowd pleasers, captures the fevered excitement of heading out for a night on the town. It has some great lyrics, too, namely: "Do you move through the room with a glass in your hand/ Thinking too hard about the way you stand/ Are you watching them pair off and drinking them long/ Are you falling in love every second song." "Leaders Of The Free World" is also a rousing number, skewering our heads of nation by equating them to "little boys throwing stones" against a driving musical backdrop that builds on itself until reaching a crescendo with the unflattering description of America's unfortunate dynasty "passing the gun from father to feckless son."

My favorite songs on the album, though, are the slower, contemplative ones, where the extent of Carvey's emotional rawness shines against deceptively simple arrangements. "The Stops" and "My Very Best" both describe failed relationships that the singer isn't ready to let go. He knows they are over, but can't quite come to terms with the loss. "Great Expectations" sustains the melancholy, with acoustic guitar and harmonies at the start as gorgeous and affecting as Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair." The vocals and overall tone of this one also call to mind Paul Weller at his more introspective. Finally, the album closes with a short, quiet song, "Puncture Repair," where, accompanied only by a piano, our protagonist "leaned on you today," and "you patched me up and sent me on my way," presumably ready to go back out and try some more.

-Heidi Lamer

Track Listing:
1. Station Approach
2. Picky Bastard
3. Forget Myself
4. Stops
5. Leaders Of The Free World
6. An Imagined Affair
7. Mexican Standoff
8. Everthere
9. My Very Best
10. Great Expectations
11. Puncture Repair

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