For such a self-effacing group of musicians, Coldplay have left an awfully large footprint on the landscape. Their vaguely spiritual songs about hope, loss, and distress are elliptical enough to apply to any situation and appealing enough for multiple radio formats. Their imprint is even more apparent in their native England. For the past decade, every new Brit band yearned to be the next Radiohead. Now, based on the sophomore album by Elbow, the new archetype appears to be Coldplay -- rock that's less abrasive, and more comforting, than Radiohead's has ever been.
Wedding ethereal mood music to abstruse lyrics has never been a problem for Elbow. Their 2001 debut, ''Asleep in the Back,'' had a dreamy, anesthetized quality, floating rather than rocking, and their second disc, Cast of Thousands, is no different. Like Coldplay's Chris Martin (at least pre-Gwyneth), singer Guy Garvey seems resigned to his share of romantic turmoil, which he communicates by way of rueful lyrics (''Leave me and the plants die'') and a delivery akin to one long sigh. The slithering guitars and off-kilter rhythms that surround him make for music that's the definition of late-night listening, when everyone else is asleep and you're alone with your thoughts. But just when this occasionally draggy album threatens to give in to its own malaise, the band interjects a loud, jarring organ or jagged noise; ''Snooks (Progress Report),'' one of the album's most compelling moments, is a mambo for manic-depressives.