- 12 Oct 18
The Mighty (Like A Rose) Elvis Costello has been known to perform sets plotted by the vagaries of a giant onstage roulette-like wheel, and with his most recent releases genre hopping from New Orleans to Bluegrass, and even a Shakespearean ballet, his albums can seem a bit random and all. This admirable adherence to the muse’s machinations is never less than interesting but talk of a cross between career high points Imperial Bedroom and Painted From Memory in advance of this release was cause for celebration amongst the cognoscenti. The Imposters’ exemplary playing of Bedroom material at recent shows is, as EC has said himself, another reason to be cheerful. Costello has pointed to this as one of the impetuses that got him recording again. Seek out their southern soul shot at ‘Tears Before Bedtime’ as evidence.
Just as on Bedroom, the equivalent of Walton’s storeroom is thrown at the wall to see what sticks – bassoon, piccolo, flute and a mini male voice choir, and that’s just opener ‘Under Lime’. The gorgeous horn and string arrangements, crafted by Costello himself, are all underpinned by the intuitive, song-serving Imposters, most especially keyboard king, Steve Nieve.
The Painted From Memory connection is strong too, Burt Bacharach helping out on several songs the men co-wrote for musicals that never happened, Costello being savvy enough to “always take the precaution of making sure the lyrics made emotional and literal sense without reference to the plot”. As with the recent ‘You Shouldn’t Look At Me That Way’ - a best original song Oscar winner in a better, fairer world, the writing of which was another shove to renewed activity - Costello frequently, on future classics like ‘Don’t Look Now’, ‘Photographs Can Lie’, ‘Stripping Paper’, and ‘He’s Given Me Things’, adopts a female narrative perspective. That he doesn’t stumble into cliché is testament to his empathic writing prowess. Bacharach isn’t the only legendary songsmith that clocks in either - the tale of a less-than-gay divorcée ‘Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter’ was written with Carole King on a Dublin afternoon a few decades ago.
If this all sounds far too clever for whistling then rest assured, this is a superbly strong suite of songs, with melodies that lodge in the brain like toffee on teeth. Homburgs off to the revitalised rockin’ polymath, this is fit to be filed alongside those aforementioned cast-iron classics.