...This Town/Let Him Dangle/Deep Dark Truthful Mirror/Veronica/God's Comic/Chewing Gum/Tramp The Dirt Down/Stalin Malone/Satellite/Pads, Paws And Claws/Baby Plays Around/Miss Macbeth/Any King's Shilling/Coal-Train Robberies/Last Boat Leaving
It had been three years or so since Elvis Costello's last album, Blood And Chocolate, on which he was backed by The Attractions. Here he was back with various musicians as guest backing throughout the album, including Paul McCartney, Roger McGuinn, Allen Toussaint and Nick Lowe. He had re-invented himself, to an extent, as a sort of Woody Guthrie-style wandering minstrel - a troubadour with a biting social conscience, railing about many contemporary issues in a far more direct manner than he had done before. His comments were often oblique and his lyrics always seemed to be described as "acerbic". Here, there was no doubt as to his targets on several songs. His approach was now full on, vituperative and often a little over the top in its vindictiveness.
The music was now quite Celtic in its influences - folky and fiddle in places. The effect of The Pogues via his new squeeze, Cait O'Riordan, was clear. Paul McCartney was also an influence, particularly on the tracks he collaborated with Costello on. The music is quite harsh in production at times. It is quite difficult to describe effectively, but it had lost a lot of that keyboard and bass warmth of The Attractions at their peak. Costello presets himself as "The Beloved Entertainer" on the cover, a sort of vaudeville clown at the mercy of his demanding audience. In return Costello gives his unforgiving mob a sprawling, unconnected set of songs that proved a sort of variety show. This is no happy-go-lucky show, though. It is one of Costello's most brutal, hardest-hitting pieces of work.
...This Town is funky guitar-led punchy song, with swirling organ, thumping drums and a cynical lyric, spat bitterly out by Costello. Not quite sure what it is about though. It just sounds right to moan along with - "you're nobody until everybody in this town thinks you're a bastard..."
Let Him Dangle is a heartbreaking, sparse, slightly Celtic ballad concerning the unjust hanging of Derek Bentley, aged only 19. It almost sounds as if it could be a Southern Irish rebel song in its narrative tale of injustice. It is a poignant song and a rallying cry for anyone who finds the concept of capital punishment utterly distasteful. "The Hangman shook Derek Bentley's hand to calculate his weight..". Chilling. The guitar solo on the song is suitably cutting.
Deep, Dark, Truthful Mirror is one of my favourites - a soulful song that has Costello staring into his dark heart, searching for himself. It has superb New Orleans-style brass backing and piano too. Costello's voice is at its absolute best too. Once again, it is lyrically magnificent - beguiling, perplexing and inspiring within a matter of a few lines.
God's Comic is a folky slow-paced, acoustically-driven with some delightfully wry lyrics about God.
Then, it is time for the Celtic-influenced and tumultuously bitter Tramp The Dirt Down that has Costello longing for the final demise of Margaret Thatcher. Now, I loathed Margaret Thatcher with a vengeance, and I loathe her legacy to this day. In many ways I agree with the vengeful sentiments of this song 100%. Whenever I hear it, I bristle and I spit out the lyrics, gripped with hatred. Then I always feel ever so slightly guilty. It is a tremendously powerful song, and its sentiments are spot on in so many places. There is something in me, nevertheless, which finds it distasteful to take pleasure in the death of a human being. What does that make me? On the day Margaret Thatcher died, I did not celebrate. I simply said "she won't be missed" and got on with my life. Then I went and played this song. Go figure, as the Americans say.
Anyway, thats got that out of the way. Suitably, after such a shocking, vitriolic song, the ambience is lifted by the jaunty instrumental mysteriously titled Stalin Malone.
On with the show, though. Baby Plays Around is a tender love song, back with acoustic guitar only. This maybe would have been a perfectly low-key song on which to end the album.
The Other Side Of Summer/Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)/How To Be Dumb/All Grown Up/Invasion Hit Parade/Harpies Bizarre/After The Fall/Georgie And Her Rival/So Like Candy/Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 2/Playboy To A Man/Sweet Pear/Broken/Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4
Elvis Costello's two previous solo albums (without The Attractions) had been largely folk/country/Irish music/acoustic affairs. Both were excellent (the country-ish King Of America and the Irish/folky Spike). Here. however, he was back with a really rock-influenced sound - big, booming, bassy production, with powerful drums - like The Attractions but with a punchier, fuller sound. Some commentators I have read find this an impenetrable, difficult album to appreciate. Not so me. I love it. It is less sprawling and disconnected than Spike and has a far better sound, in my opinion. This is one of Costello's warmest, bassiest-sounding albums, which, for me is always good to hear. Parts of Spike were quite tinny in comparison. Image-wise, his shaggy beard and dull garb were questionable, however.
The opener, the lively, exhilarating The Other Side Of Summer, has some Beach Boys-style harmonies over a thumping beat and some Attractions-influenced piano parts at the end.
Elvis is quite wound up and stressed over a few things on here, though, and he beautifully spits out his venom on the marvellous How To Be Dumb, which I dedicate to many of the idiot bosses I had the misfortunate to work for over the years. Listen to the lyrics, it is ideal for that sort of thing. I am not sure who Costello's target was, but it sure works.
Harpies Bizarre is my favourite track on the album. Lots of Attractions vibes, plus some excellent woodwind bits, appealing orchestration and Costello's great lyrics and delivery. One of his best ever tracks. I am a bass addict, used melodically within a song, and I love the bass lines on this song.
So Like Candy is such an atmospheric slow number, featuring some excellent twangy Duane Eddy-style guitar in places and, yet again, some big, thumping speaker-shaking bass. All fine by me.
Pony Street/Kinder Murder/13 Steps Lead Down/This Is Hell/Clown Strike/You Tripped At Every Step/Still Too Soon To Know/20% Amnesia/Sulky Girl/London's Brilliant Parade/My Science Fiction Twin/Rocking Horse Road/Just About Glad/All The Rage/Favourite Hour
This was the first album Elvis Costello had recorded with The Attractions since Blood And Chocolate in 1986. It has received a certain amount of criticism for the harshness in its sound quality. To an extent, I understand these views, but for me, the quality of the songs outweigh those drawbacks. There is some great stuff on here. The Attractions are in enthusiastic rude health. Nick Lowe is on bass, replacing the enigmatic Bruce Thomas on some tracks, but drummer Pete Thomas and keyboard wizard Steve Nieve are still there for all of the album.
The album starts with bang - the frenetic, clunking piano, rumbling bass and pounding drums back Costello's vitriolic vocals on Pony Street providing a great opener.
This Is Hell slows down the frantic pace, but it is one of those marvellous, wordy, evocative Costello slow but passionate and dramatic numbers.
Two favourites of mine are the wonderful, atmospheric and nostalgic London's Brilliant Parade with its London landmark name-checks, and the powerful, grinding Rocking Horse Road. There are lots of typical Attractions keyboard breaks in this song.
The criticisms of this album from some are somewhat unfair. I have always been very fond of it. It is up there as one of his most consistently impressive mid-career albums.
Strange/Hidden Charms/Remove This Doubt/I Threw It All Away/Leave My Kitten Alone/Everybody's Crying Mercy/I've Been Wrong Before/Bama Lama Bama Loo/Must You Throw Dirt In My Face/Pouring Water On A Drowning Man/The Very Thought Of You/Payday/Please Stay/Running Out Of Fools/Days
After making a comeback with The Attractions for 1994's Brutal Youth, Elvis Costello went back to his love of Americana for this pleasant and enjoyable enough album of cover versions of songs which if not all country rock in style were turned into such by Costello and his band. Covers albums are often a bit problematic because everyone is so familiar with the original versions of the songs that any other recording of them comes up short. With this album, not all the songs are particularly well-known, so they, to a certain extent, sound not much different to actual Costello originals.
Tracks like Mose Allison's bluesy Everybody's Crying Mercy is a fine example. Not that well known, it is given a deep, bassy, late night jazzy feel by Costello and sounds totally convincing in his hands. Similarly the late fifties r'n'b blues of Leave My Kitten Alone (which was covered by The Beatles and released as part of their Anthology compilation).
Little Richard's lesser-known Bama Lama Lama Loo is given that country rocking upbeat treatment that Costello used to great effect on tracks like Honey Hush on his album of country covers, 1981's Almost Blue.
The "deluxe" two CD version of the album has more of the same on CD 2, including some Lennon-McCartney covers - Step Inside Love (originally recorded by Cilla Black) and You've Got To Hide Your Love Away.
There is another Dylan track in You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go from Blood On The Tracks, Bruce Springsteen's Brilliant Disguise from Tunnel Of Love and Van Morrison's Full Force Gale.
A surprise is Robin Sarstedt's My Resistance Is Low (originally by Hoagy Carmichael). All good stuff, although the original album is perfectly enjoyable to listen to in its original line-up of tracks.
The Other End Of The Telescope/Little Atoms/All This Useless Beauty/Complicated Shadows/Why Can't A Man Stand Alone?/Distorted Angel/Shallow Grave/Poor Fractured Atlas/Starting To Come To Me/You Bowed Down/It's Time/I Want To Vanish
This is a less harsh-sounding album than 1994's Brutal Youth, although the songs aren't quite so memorable. There is an appealing mix of slow, yearning numbers and upbeat Costello-style rockers. It is a bit of a patchy album, to be honest, I prefer its predecessor, and it doesn't really hold a candle to the great albums of the seventies and eighties. That said, it is not without its highlights.
The Other End Of The Telescope is a heartfelt, moving slow number full of those classic Costello couplets, while Little Atoms is probably my favourite on the album, with real echoes of the Imperial Bedroom era in the instrumentation and the vocal.
Shallow Grave is one of those strangely rhythmic songs that Costello does, such as featured on Spike and Brutal Youth, full of loud drums and rimshots.
Let me state, in conclusion, that this is certainly not a bad album. It is actually quite good, but, for me, I found more of the Brutal Youth material stayed in my mind, by far, despite this album's clearly superior sound quality.
45/Spooky Girlfriend/Tear Off Your Own Head (It's A Doll Revolution)/When I Was Cruel No. 2/Soul For Hire/15 Petals/Tart/Dust 2.../Dissolve/Alibi/...Dust/Daddy Can I Turn This?/My Little Blue Window/Oh Well/Episode Of Blonde/Radio Silence
Firstly, it has to be said that this album suffered, as many did around the time of its release, from a deafeningly loud production. Now, I like my music loud, I like it thumpingly bassy, but even I have to turn this one down considerably from the volume I play most other albums at. Along with Paul McCartney's Memory Almost Full it is one of the worst offenders.
Now that is out of the way, it is a good album in places. 45 is a rumbling, mysterious yet powerful opener.
When I Was Cruel No. 2 is an atmospheric slow burner with a great Costello vocal but an incredibly irritating female backing vocal part that repeats "unn" on every backbeat. The song would be so better without it. It is a good one, though, full of great lyrics. He even quotes from Abba's Dancing Queen at one point. It goes on for six minutes at the same tempo, but does not get tiring, apart from the "unns", of course, which carry on throughout.
Tart is a perplexing, cynical slow number, while Dust 2... is another bassy, deep number.
This was a good album, but I don't play it that much, maybe I should. Taking just a few tracks at a time to fully appreciate them.
You Left Me In The Dark/Someone Took The Words Away/When Did I Stop Dreaming/You Turned To Me/Fallen/When It Sings/Still/Let Me Tell You About Her/Can You Be Sure?/When Green Eyes Turn Blue/I'm In The Mood Again/Impatience
I own most of Elvis Costello's albums (apart from some of the collaboration ones) and I have to admit that of all those many pieces of work, this is the one I come back to the least. After being inspired by his Burt Bacharach collaboration, 1998's Painted From Memory, Costello decided to craft an "easy listening", "crooning" album himself. I understand that he likes this sort of material (he has often added a low-key, piano ballad to most of his albums over the years), but for me he is at his best either spitting out visceral, frenetic Attractions-style rock or upbeat country blues/rock such as on 2004's The Delivery Man. I don't really get Costello as Bing Crosby or Wee Small Hours-era Frank Sinatra.
This is an extremely laid-back, almost bleakly low-key jazz and classical-influenced album that doesn't really change in pace, ambience or atmosphere and and thus is, personally, quite difficult to get into. It has a great cover, one of his best, and because of that (shallow, I know), I always expect more from the album. However, it is sleepy, vocal and slow jazz piano, late night, mournful material for the duration of the album.
Basically it is an album of tracks like Almost Blue from Imperial Bedroom. These songs are fine in isolation, but a whole album of songs in the style of the opener, You Left Me In The Dark or the so slow as to be almost comatose When Did I Stop Dreaming, with its dead-slow jazzy brush-drumming, leave me just a little uninspired. Yes, I know some love Costello in this minimalist, piano and crooning voice fashion and I can certainly hear its appeal, but for me an entire album of it is just not to my taste. When Did I Stop Dreaming is definitely atmospheric, but it is not a song I want to return to very often, if at all. The same applies to the positively somnolent You Turned To Me.
I feel Costello doesn't use instrumentation other than the stark, clunky piano enough on this album. For example, at the end of Still, The Brodsky Quartet play some lovely strings, but it is too little to late, and there is a simply sumptuous piece of saxophone on the beautiful Let Me Tell You About Her.
Someone Took The Worlds Away is probably my favourite on the album. It also features some subtle background saxophone. Look, maybe I am being a little harsh, because it is without any doubt a finely crafted and highly credible album.
Button My Lip is a breakneck paced opener , a real typical Costello rocker, while Country Darkness is an appealing country-ish ballad with some steel guitar, but also some solid, muscular drums and powerful vocal.
Either Side of The Same Town is a great Costello ballad, that sounds as if it should be on Trust, maybe. As indeed also does the Strict Time-ish rhythmic groove of Bedlam.
The remainder of the album is a similar mixture of passionately delivered slow numbers, (four in a row, in fact) great lyrics and catchy rockers like Needle Time and is definitely one of his most impressive albums of the 2000s yet one that rarely gets mentioned. The first half of the album is really good, the second slightly less so but it is still his strongest rock album in years - ten years, probably, since Brutal Youth.
No Hiding Place/American Gangster Time/Turpentine/Harry Worth/Drum And Bone/Flutter And Wow/Stella Hurt/Mr. Feathers/My Three Sons/Song With Rose/Pardon Me Madam, My Name Is Eve/Go Away
This album was, apparently, rush-released after Costello had been ranting about never releasing anything in the UK ever again. His hot air all came to nothing and this album suddenly appeared. It was a good one too, one of his best, rockiest non-Attractions albums.
The Attractions-ish No Hiding Place opens the album in lively fashion, while American Gangster Time has real echoes of Bob Dylan in the Blonde on Blonde era, plus once again lots of Attractions-style music, particularly the keyboards. It is a thumpingly impressive track, and Costello sounds really "up for it", vocally.
Drum And Bone is a jazzy-ish, slightly bluesy rocker in that Costello-blues style. Flutter And Wow has a big, thumping bass sound backing Costello's yearning vocal.
My Three Sons is a slow and emotive song from Costello to his sons. It is melodic, atmospheric and heartfelt too.
Overall, this is an impressive, largely upbeat Costello album. Very powerful and rock-ish in its sound, like Brutal Youth.
Down Among The Wine & Spirits/Complicated Shadows/I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came/My All Time Doll/Hidden Shame/She Handed Me A Mirror/I Dreamed Of My Old Lover/How Deep Is The Red/She Was No Good/Sulphur To Sugarcane/Red Cotton/The Crooked Line/Changing Partners
This is a country rock record from Elvis Costello, a bit similar to some of the material on 1986's King Of America, but far more rootsy and country-bluesy than that album, which still contained many echoes of his recent at the time work with The Attractions. There are no such throwbacks on this one. It is probably the rootsiest album he had recorded thus far.
Kicking off is the lively country blues of Down Among The Wine And Spirits then, funnily enough, we get a cover of a 1996 Attractions number, from All this Useless Beauty, Complicated Shadows, but done in an acoustic style.
I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came is a mournful, folky lament backed by a solid bass and evocative fiddle.
She Handed Me A Mirror is a stark, evocative ballad, as indeed are I Dreamed Of My Old Lover and How Deep Is The Red. The latter are more intricate, musically, but all three are slow-paced numbers.
The bluesy and vaguely jazzy Sulphur And Sugarcane lifts the mood somewhat, with a rich, bassy swing and good-time feel. This is a most catchy track, one of my favourites on here.
This is an unusual, rootsy country album but its tone is a little too mournful throughout, which is unusual for Costello albums, as he normally ups the pace more than just a few times in thirteen songs. If you are in a quiet mood, however, it does the trick.
National Ransom/Jimmie Standing In The Rain/Stations Of The Cross/A Slow Drag With Josephine/Five Small Words/Church Underground/You Hung The Moon/Bullets For The New-Born King/I Lost You/Dr. Watson, I Presume/One Bell Ringing/The Spell That You Cast/That's Not The Part Of Him You're Leaving/My Lovely Jezebel/All These Strangers/A Voice In The Dark/I Hope
After 2009's very country bluesy and folky offering in Secret, Profane And Sugarcane, this album still remained in slightly the same vein, but there are differences. There is more rock on here, more full bass and drums, less country guitar, banjo and fiddle. More of an upbeat, fuller sound to some of the material. I much prefer this to its predecessor.
National Ransom is a real throwback to the glory days of The Attractions - packed full of thumping drums, swirling, parping organ, a general frenetic beat and Costello hammering out the cards and lyrics.
Five Small Words is a pounding return to bluesy rock. There certainly wasn't anything like this on the previous album. It raises the tempo and feel of the album, something the last album failed to do. There is a catchy Cajun influence underpinning this track. Similarly, the strong, powerful Church Underground would not have found a place on the last album.
Dr. Watson, I Presume is a Celtic-influenced folk number with touches of Americana country rock. One Bell Ringing is an atmospheric, Paul Weller-influenced slow song, with some delicious deep clarinet on it at one point. The Spell You Cast is back to Attractions-style rock, with that Radio, Radio organ sound.
That's Not The Part Of Him You're Leaving is a slow country lament. My Lovely Jezebel is a lively, bassy and bluesy rocker, a bit like the material on 2004's The Delivery Man.
Elvis Costello is a bit of an acquired taste, particularly his later work, I guess you have to like him in the first place. If you do and you are prepared to travel with him through different styles you will like it. If you prefer the old new wave days, then there are plenty of compilations that will suit better.
Walk Us Uptown/Sugar Won't Work/Refuse To Be Saved/Wake Me Up/Tripwire/Stick Out Your Tongue/Come The Meantimes/(She Might Be A ) Grenade/Cinco Minutos Con Vos/Viceroy's Row/Wise Up Ghost/If I Could Believe
On this album, Elvis Costello is backed by hip/hop band The Roots, a group from a much younger generation to Costello and one who I will freely admit to having no prior knowledge of. They can play, however, and considerably enhance the musical ambience of the album. They add a muscular, punchy staccato rhythm to the backing which matches Costello's vocals perfectly. It is perhaps a surprising union, but it really works.
Walk Us Uptown is a rumbling, rhythmic and bassy grinder of an opener, underpinned by some excellent brass and industrially-jangling guitars. At the end it even uses a bit of melodica (better known in dub reggae). Costello's vocal sounds a bit older, more gruff, but still bearing that trademark cynical sneering tone.
Again, Stick Out Your Tongue uses lyrics and ambience from 1983's Pills And Soap. Yes, there is an argument that plundering old material to write new songs around may signify a lack of a new creative spark, but I don't see it like that. All the new songs have an identity of their own.
(She Might Be A) Grenade is a quirky, bassy slow burner of a track, one of the album's most beguiling and inventive. It also samples an earlier Costello song but try as I might, I can't remember what it is. It is in the acoustic guitar riff part.
Wise Up Ghost is another infectious, slow, shuffling number and If I Could Believe ends the album in a low-key fashion. Overall, this is an innovative, appealing piece of work. Certainly one of Costello's finest latter-era albums.
Under Lime/Don't Look Now/Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter/Stripping Paper/Unwanted Number/I Let The Sun Go Down/Mr & Mrs Hush/Photographs Can Lie/Dishonour The Stars/Suspect My Tears/Why Won't Heaven Help Me?/He's Given Me Things
For some reason, I was expecting a album of laid-back, “croony” Burt Bacharach-style material on this album. (Bacharach indeed collaborated on some of the songs). Not so, some of it is there, because that has been what has floated Costello’s boat for the last twenty years or so, but a lot of it is refreshing powerful, punchy and at many times Attractions-esque. Not surprising, as keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas are in attendance. The sound quality is one of the best I have heard on a Costello album too.
Under Lime is a delicious mixture of an upbeat rocky number featuring some typical Costello balladry with a bit of Beatles-style brass thrown in for good measure at one point. The bass line is beautiful on this and Costello’s voice sounds just like it did many years ago. The track is hindered just a little by some unnecessary embellishments - some superfluous “ba-ba-ba” vocals, for example. That is a minor thing, though, overall, it is a quite innovative and impressive number. Some Attractions-style piano comes in near the end too.
Stripping Paper is what may at one time have been recorded as a stark piano and vocal ballad, but as with all the material so far, it is given a different feel by Pete Thomas’s muscular drums. Nieve’s piano on this is beautiful. Unwanted Number is a thumping, but bluesy melodic Attractions-style offering, dated from 1996, I read.
Some more George Martin brass (French horn?) crops up on the evocative and pretty impressive I Let The Sun Go Down. Costello’s voice is so good on this one, which is one of his best songs for many a year. Particularly sad when one thinks of the recent passing of engineer Geoff Emerick, who worked with The Beatles for so long and, of course, Costello on Imperial Bedroom. His influence would seem to be all over this.
Mr & Mrs Hush is like something from 2004’s The Delivery Man but with added brass accoutrements. Again, Costello sounds energetic, enthusiastic and effervescent, something that is coming across so much on this album.
Support My Tears is a beautiful, deep ballad with big, dramatic stage-style orchestration and a bit of a poppy melody to it. There is a real Bacharach air to this. I am not sure yet who wrote the individual songs and whether this is one of the collaborations with Bacharach. If not, Costello certainly wrote it in that style (it's not - Don't Look Now, Photographs Can Lie and He's Given Me Things are the Bacharach collaborations).
Personally, I feel this album will be a real grower that will justify numerous plays over the years, just like Imperial Bedroom, the Costello album that this reminds me of the most, and I can’t say better than that.
Revolution #49/No Flag/They’re Not Laughing At Me Now/Newspaper Pane/I Do (Zula’s Song)/We Are All Cowards Now/Hey Clockface-Can You Face Me?/The Whirlwind/Hetty O’Hara Confidential/The Last Confession Of Vivian Whip/What Is It That I Need That I Don’t Already Have?/Radio Is Everything/I Can’t Say Her Name/Byline
After a really good virtually Attractions-backed album in 2018’s Look Now, Elvis Costello retains only keyboardist Steve Nieve for this beguiling, slow burner of an album. The booming, clear drum sound of Attractions drummer Pete Thomas is gone here, replaced by a deep, sonorous beat on the album’s more powerful tracks. Ironically, though, these are the album’s best numbers, as Costello spits out his trademark invective over a murky, dense, unnerving backing.
Much of the rest of the album is given over to satisfying Costello’s long held love of thirties-style crooning and jaunty twenties Vaudeville. The crooner and the showman have never been far from his persona for about thirty years or so now.
The better, more resonant, meaningful songs, both lyrically and musically are to be found in the first half of the album. Its second half tends to be bogged down in too much slow, mournful, orchestrated crooning. That said, on first listen I found that the album bored me, whereas a few more listens in I found that it grew on me. I still much prefer Look Now, however.
Anyway, on to the tracks. Revolution #49 is a totally inessential spoken intro with Costello talking in his semi-scouse accent (although at times he sounds like Van Morrison) over a sombre, Eastern-influenced backing. It all sounds a bit pretentious, to be honest. Things pick up soon, however, on the industrial denseness of No Flag, which, despite its programmed percussion is full of buzzy riffs, a muffled, paranoid atmosphere and a killer vocal from Costello. It is up there as one of his best tracks of recent times, reminding me of some of the material on the How To Be Cruel album.
Croony balladry soon arrives, though, on the gentle but mysteriously appealing They’re Not Laughing At Me Now, which has Costello revisiting a familiar theme of a misunderstood clown having the last laugh. It is enhanced by some nice brass parts.
Tough, terse riffy menace returns on Newspaper Pane, which again features a programmed drum rhythm. Costello’s voice sounds strangely lisping and old, at a higher pitch than usual. Another punchy brass break adds to the song’s appeal. The lyrics are powerfully cynical too.
I Do (Zula’s Song) is a typically smoky and atmospheric Costello ballad, with mournful orchestration and New Orleans funeral-style slow brass. His voice is back to a deeper timbre this time.
One of the last heavy, chunky numbers on the album is the shuffling, grainy groove of We Are All Cowards now, which again has echoes some of his early 2000s output.
Costello has always liked a bit of soft-shoe vaudeville and he delivers some on the surprisingly enjoyable Hey Clockface/Can You Face Me? It almost breaks into tap-dance at one point and the woodwind swirls, twenties-style, all around. I imagine Costello's father would have loved this.
The Whirlwind is an evocative piano and solo brass backed plaintive ballad. It brings to mind some of the songs on David Bowie’s Blackstar album at occasional points.
Hetty O’Hara Confidential is a quirky, thumping and staccato Costello shuffle, full of jerky piano, keyboards, heavy drums and an acerbic, almost rapped-out vocal. This is the final truly powerful, lively number on the album and it is strangely addictive. It reminds me of Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over) from the Mighty Like A Rose album.
The oddly-titled The Last Confession Of Vivian Whip is another bleak piano, strings and voice ballad in that thirties style, like something Bryan Ferry would cover. Similarly maudlin is the voice and bassy guitar ballad What Is It That I Need That I Don’t Already Have? Initially I felt the album was getting into a bit of a crooning rut at this point, but on subsequent listens it has started to get into my system and it becomes sleepily appealing.
The next track, Radio Is Everything, is an oddity, however, as Costello narrates his lyrics, Van Morrison-style over an ethereal lone keyboard backing (a solo trumpet and some gentle percussion arrives near the end). It is like nothing he has ever done before but it inspires once more a surprising fascination in me.
The long, low key end to the album continues on the brush drum, stand up bass and brass ballad, I Can’t Say Her Name and the piano/vocal strains of Byline are just as somnolent.
This is an acquired taste of an album, one that is seemingly set firmly in the drawing rooms of the 1930s but the more I listen to it, the more it eats into me. At first I thought I didn’t like it - a few listens later I loved it.