Elbow fiddles with a battery of widescreen dynamics and slight prog rock tendencies, delivering an epic debut of Manchester miserablism that will likely gain comparisons to fellow Mancunian band Doves (rightfully) and Coldplay (wrongfully). Like Doves, Elbow has enough supple shadings and tasteful textures to hold interest without vocals. However, where you have dance producers at the core of Doves, you have a highly emotional songwriter at the core of Elbow. Despite constantly dipping into an overflowing well of sonic tricks (the non-wank variety), each of Guy Garvey's songs would be able to survive with a lone acoustic providing accompaniment. Judging from Garvey's rough-hewn voice, he could be forgiven for sinking into a misery-addled torpor; thankfully, that's not the case -- given enough instrumental prodding from his cohorts, Garvey's voice can soar and seethe with the best of them. Tally these qualities and you have a record that glides above the host of bands who prattle aimlessly about their pin cushion-frail souls. After all, Asleep in the Back is more about getting through and sustaining than it is flat-out moping or asking for a hug. The tempos might not ever exceed mid-level, and half of the songs might exceed five minutes, but the record is anything but a difficult listen or tough to wade through. When the acoustic strumming, piano twinkles, liquid basslines, and muted horns are this engaging and well arranged, it's difficult to wring yourself from the web. If you can only spare eight minutes to test drive the record, go straight to "Newborn," the sweeping centerpiece with enough catharsis and heavenly Talk Talk-informed organ that you'd swear it came from the second side of Catherine Wheel's Adam and Eve. Stacked against other debuts out of Manchester, theirs is no disgrace.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman