Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Falling between his innovative mash-up/mix-up Wise Up Ghost with the hip-hop group The Roots (and don't call it self-sampling) and his latest Hey Clockface with its spoken word passages, Middle Eastern allusions, a French ensemble and guitarist Nels Cline, this very recent double vinyl acquisition – pulled from the shelves at random -- found Costello back with his longtime band The Imposters (his first studio album with them for a decade).
And of course it only has passing musical nods to those albums either side of it.
In fact, it reaches right back to his earliest albums for his embittered and snarky vocal style but also weaves through three songs co-written with Burt Bacharach (Burt on piano for two) and one with Carole King (the busy Seventies-club orchestra-meets-My Aim-style on Burnt Sugar is So Bitter).
There are lovely ballads here (you could almost imagine Karen Carpenter after a bitter divorce singing the orchestrated and Costello-vibrato Stripping Paper ) but what carries the album – aside from the Imposters, Bacharach and the arrangements – are the stories being told: loss of love (and empire on I Let the Sun Go Down, ambiguously as if “empire” was a valuable thing although the romantic strings suggest some sympathy for the central character) and a daughter discovering her father has had an affair (the heartbreaking Photographs Can Lie, also with Bacharach).
Costello – like Paul Kelly – has always written convincingly from a woman's perspective and he does again here: a beautiful woman the subject of a voyeuristic man (Don't Look Now, boasting a Bacharach tune and piano part); a woman parting company with friends who disapprove of her new love (Unwanted Number); You Shouldn't Look At Me That Way from the ineffably sad movie Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool (about faded legend Gloria Grahame) . . .
Then the flipside: the man turning the tables on a lover who turns on tears by cynically deploying the same tactic (Suspect My Tears).
If there's anything which pulls this back it's, that aside from some instances (Why Wont Heaven Help Me?), casual Costello listeners might rightly say they've heard many of these melodies (or variants of them) in some of his previous 29 albums.
In part that is true, and maybe the critical comparisons with the essential Imperial Bedroom are a bit overstated.
But this is a fine Costello album for Costello people.
Interestingly, Adieu Paris is mostly in French and the subsequent French language EP La Face de Pendule a Coucou with Iggy Pop and Isabelle Anjani were French versions of songs from Hey Clockface.
You can hear this album on Spotify here.
Elsewhere occasionally revisits albums -- classics sometimes, but more often oddities or overlooked albums, a few by major artists -- and you can find a number of them starting here.