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Elbow: Asleep In The Back



Album: Asleep In The Back
Label: V2

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It's too easy to define bands by their influences and musical ancestors, but sometimes it's easy for a reason. Take Starsailor, an English group named for an experimental Tim Buckley album but equipped with an earnest, emotive sound that rarely strays from the increasingly trafficked path of Coldplay and Travis (who in turn travel roads paved over by Radiohead and Buckley's son Jeff). Love Is Here, predictably hyped in its country of origin, introduces Starsailor to U.S. audiences and critics at the slowest time of the year, a wise move given the identical releases that will surely flood shelves in the months to come. Those who pick it up may need extra time with it, too, because for all its familiar ingredients, Love Is Here lacks the immediate connection of the records to which it'll surely be compared. The album's gentle charm eventually seeps through, aided by pleasantries like the catchy "Good Souls," which sings the praises of, well, good souls. James Walsh, Starsailor's 21-year-old singer, employs an impressive (if familiar) repertoire of dramatic vocal gestures, but Love Is Here radiates as-yet-unfulfilled potential, like the work of a band going through the motions to get its foot in the door. Manchester's Elbow has attracted similarly over-the-top U.K. hype—really, is there any other kind?—and similar, though less appropriate, Coldplay comparisons. But in spite of its sterling reputation and Mercury Prize nomination, Asleep In The Back feels similarly tentative and half-formed. Establishing a languorous mood right away, the album is all meandering, low-key moods and textures, with precious few focused songs on which to hang them. Oddly, Asleep's most sprawling track, the seven-and-a-half-minute centerpiece "Newborn," is also its most immediate, simultaneously recalling Peter Gabriel and the best work of Dave Matthews. But much of the disc's remainder sacrifices songs for sounds, opting for pleasantness over permanence.