- 14 Jan 22
The Main Attraction
The opening guitar chord is strangled then punctuated by the slam of stick against skin from the mighty hand of Pete Thomas. Costello howls ‘Farewell, OK’ and we’re off to the races. Remember him covering Little Richard’s ‘Bama Lama Bama Loo’ on odds and sods collection Kojak Variety? No, just me? Anyway, that same spirit is here. The Imposters play their arses off on a prime cut of R&B that rocks like a bastard.
Costello might deny it but there is a direct line from a lot of The Boy Named If going back through Brutal Youth and Blood & Chocolate to those first four mighty Attractions long players. Elvis can of course write a melodic beauty, like ‘Mr. Crescent’ or ‘Paint The Red Rose Blue’, with the best of them - McCartney and Bacharach don't have his phone number by mistake, and both men will surely curse themselves for not thinking of the title 'What If I Can't Give You Anything But Love?' before, not to mind the killer tune - but marrying that with the clanging and banging is a different trick altogether. It's as if being forced off the road and having to record remotely due to circumstance has somehow steeled one of the best bands around. They knock the shite out of a uniformly great set of songs like a gang of young lads vying for attention.
The dancing joy of ‘Penelope Halfpenny’, with that push behind the chorus, evokes the hard pop of The Beatles circa Revolver, Steve Nieve - the rock n’ roll Rachmaninoff - stabs the organ while Thomas tries to tunnel through his snare during ‘Magnificent Hurt’, a song with a middle eight stolen from the Gods when they weren’t looking, and ‘Mistook Me For A Friend’ could have fitted in on the Stax/Motownisms of Get Happy!!, driven home by Davey Farragher’s bass Macca manoeuvres. The same man earns his paycheque for the bubbling bottom end he adds to 'My Most Beautiful Mistake' on its own.
Lyrically, it’s a set of stories from boyhood to man, further illustrated by Costello’s daubings and short stories that fill out the package and, with close examination, the blanks. You can take that on board while you’re tapping your toe if you please – someone gets stabbed, possibly, in ‘The Difference’, the titular imaginary pal offers a hand to magic lantern land to escape childhood crises, the younger man gets his leg over - but I prefer to just grin like a loon as I’m air drumming and singing along. Costello’s never really made any bad records, and he’s been responsible for more than his share of brilliant ones; The Boy Named If is one of them. Put it on again.