On Collecting Elbow Rarities

As many people know, I’m an Elbow fan. I’m a bit of an evangelist for the band, actually; I push Elbow on all of my friends. :)

Cast of Thousands, the band’s second album, was my first Elbow album, and as such it’s probably the one I will always be fondest of.

I remember buying it. I bought it at the same time as I bought Snow Patrol’s Final Straw; both albums released in the US at roughly the same time, and I was in the Best Buy in Cary, North Carolina. I wanted the latter — I’d heard “Spitting Games” on the soundtrack to EA’s MVP Baseball and thought it sounded great — and I’d heard some interesting things about the former, Elbow, in MOJO.

Cast of Thousands was the wildest thing I’d heard in forever. Yeah, Snow Patrol was very good and I listened to them muches (though I eventually came to despise Snow Patrol for their rampant self-pasticherie, but that was well in the future), but Elbow was something else. “Fugitive Motel” was magical. “Not a Job” was fantastic. I adored “Grace Under Pressure.” I made all of my friends listen to this album. I made my boss at EB Games listen to the album. (His reaction? “Allyn, you listen to really depressing music.”) I love it. I read in Q a few years ago that the band considers it “the difficult second album.” Sometimes the best art comes out of darkness and despair and difficulty. To this listener, Cast of Thousands is magic.

I bring Cast of Thousands up because it’s been on my mind recently. I’ve crossed the Elbow Rubicon. I’ve bought my first Elbow rarities.

The first is a special DVD edition of Cast of Thousands. It comes in a DVD case. The insert is light blue. Instead of the two figures that grace the cover to Cast of Thousands, there are the molds for those figures. And inside are two discs. One is the CD, with the British running order — no “Whisper Grass,” no “Lay Down Your Cross.” The other disc is a DVD the band made. I haven’t watched it yet.

The cool thing about this? Besides the fact that this edition of the album was a limited promo release to select media outlets? The front insert is autographed by frontman/lyricist Guy Garvey and guitarist Mark Potter.

Yes, I have an autographed Elbow album. Specifically, I have an autographed edition of my first Elbow album. That’s really special. :)

But that’s not the only Cast of Thousands rarity I’ve added to my collection this week.

I discovered that the video for “Not a Job” (which I named as one of my top ten Elbow songs) has a completely different mix in the video than it does on the Cast of Thousands album.

Even though it sounds a bit more commercial than the Elbow norm, even though it sounds more than a little un-Elbow-like — I keep thinking it sounds like an R.E.M. song or a Wallflowers song — this mix works for me as an Elbow song. There are some interesting sonic things going on. There’s a very Elbow texture to the mix, even though it doesn’t fit with the rest of the Cast of Thousands and sounds nothing like that “era.”

I discovered that while this heavier guitar mix of “Not a Job” wasn’t released commercially, it was issued on CD to radio stations in Britain. I tracked one down for a very reasonable price (just six dollars, including shipping), and it arrived today.

I don’t think of Elbow as a guitar band (no offense, Mark Potter!), which is why the prominent guitar work stands out so much, but it’s a compelling and creative guitar line. I’m also impressed with the echo effects on Guy’s vocal in the chorus; it lends the song an air of unreality that matches the ambiguity of the lyric (“The dream again nobody understands”). I’ve always loved “Not a Job,” and this version has made me discover unexpected things in an old friend.

I don’t know what other Elbow rarities I might collect. I don’t know what else there is to collect, though I do have the Build a Rocket Boys! book, with art by Trains Are… Mint‘s Oliver Best, on order. For the nonce, though, I’m happy with these rarities — a new version of an old favorite song, and a cherished album autographed by the band.

Good times, indeed. :)

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