Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Elvis Costello – Momofuku

“I don’t watch tv,” said Elvis Costello, recently discussing his new tv show. “I wouldn’t watch it.” Consider: the greatest English-language songwriter in the history of the universe has to take a cheesy cable talk show host gig to pay the bills. Sign of the times or what? If there’s been one single must-own cd released this year, this is it, if only to get the King off the small screen and back in the studio or on the stage where he belongs.

 

Musically and lyrically, this ranks just below his dozen or so best (name another songwriter with a dozen classic albums to his credit: Richard Thompson, maybe? You have to look hard to find another). Put another way, it’s one of the best albums of the year. This is yet another of Costello’s periodic returns to his new wave roots, lots of loud melodic guitar and organ. Ostensibly conceived, written and recorded within the span of a week on a long stray whim after recording a Jenny Lewis cameo, that claim probably has only a small basis in fact (Costello demos his material to what would be certain death for any other composer). However, there’s a directness, a freshness and terseness here that ranks, if maybe not with Armed Forces, then certainly on par with Punch the Clock or Trust. Vocally, Costello has worn as many different hats as he’s put on as a songwriter and this one finds him back in slightly restrained punk/pop mode a la When I Was Cruel or Brutal Youth with the occasional detour into second-generation, second rate R&B. Most of this is a welcome return to Costello the psychopathologist finding the inner twistedness of everything he encounters with characteristically slashing, effortless grace.

 

He comes out swinging with No Hiding Place, distorted guitar and organ roaring into a catchy upbeat chorus, a broadside about the shallowness of celebrity:

 

Next time someone wants to hurt you

Or set alight your effigy

Don’t call on me to help you out

Don’t come crying to me for sympathy

You stay there with your daubs and scratches

While I summon up the red machine

I’ll be handing somebody matches

And carrying a can of kerosene

 

It sounds a lot like My Little Blue Window, from When I Was Cruel. The next track American Gangster Time is punkish with trebly Farfisa organ, like something from This Year’s Model but louder and a whole lot ruder. Like pretty much every other human being on earth, Costello can’t wait til the Bush regime is over, and this is an appropriate sendoff, complete with graphic description of a blowjob. Turpentine, with its clanging distorted guitar over fast rumbling percussion is a rueful look back on a lifetime of boozing (Costello doesn’t drink anymore) that manages to avoid being maudlin.

 

 

With the same bouncing beat as When I Was Cruel and some blippy organ, Harry Worth knowlingly chronicles the disillution of a marriage: “He said did you hear that noise, well that once was our song.” Costello really pushes his vocals on the fiery, distorted guitar narrative Stella Hurt, right from the start and that Hendrix quote that he loves to use. This one tells the bleak story of a singer used and then forgotten by an autocratic regime, with a long noise guitar outro. Mr. Feathers is piano-based noir cabaret as LJ Murphy would do it, building to a poppy Penny Lane chorus, a twisted look at a lecher. 

 

Kicking off with a haunting 12-string intro and a troubling, complex series of chords, layers of guitars and piano over Pete Thomas’ steady backbeat, Song With Rose guardedly looks for some hope in the same vein as some of Steve Wynn’s recent work:

 

Love like a wraith never made me afraid

Consoled as I was by that shade

 

Then Costello follows that with the snide, matter-of-factly despairing Pardon Me Madam, My Name Is Eve, an impressively feminist parable where Eve says get the hell away from that guy, he’s no good:

 

I came back looking for my man,

Wandered everywhere and then

Stood outside and gazed upon a beautiful garden,

A shimmering pond

See the sunlight on the leaves that dapple

Do you see my little teethmarks on the apple?

Don’t close the door on my hand I’m offering

There is always someone on the outside

Doing all of the suffering.

 

The only real clunker on the cd is My Three Sons, a pretty melody with wretchedly sentimental lyrics. Unless this is a sarcastic song about George Bush Sr., it’s just plain awful. Still, after more than three decades since My Aim Is True came out, it’s nothing short of astonishing that Costello can still reach back and deliver the same power, intensity and relevance that he does here. You’ll see this as a rare concession to something popular (relative term, these days – if he was so popular, he wouldn’t have to do that tv show) on our top 50 cds of the year list at the end of the month. 

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December 11, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , ,

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