As their hilariously humdrum band name implies, the Manchester-based emo-prog journeymen in Elbow are big shots in the Thomas E. Yorke School of Serious, Sober British Guitar Rock. The sense of style and humor that's driven current U.K. acts like Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs to success at home and abroad is not for singer Guy Garvey and his bandmates; Elbow plays big music about big themes, the kind that's too full of good intentions to make room for jokes or fashion or sex.
You can't quite blame the quintet for its austerity on Leaders of the Free World, its third album: With a title like that, you can't expect a batch of tunes about big-bottomed girls. Also, Elbow is actually getting pretty good at tricking out its leaden grind with bits of headphone sorcery that make Garvey's protestations easier to stomach. "Forget Myself" throbs with a steam-engine groove, "Mexican Standoff" pivots on a cool surf riff, and "Picky Bugger" offers the closest thing these introverted indie dudes have to a funk beat. Savor it.