Elvis Costello, with The Imposters, has returned to the sound that set him on his way with his mostly fast and often furious album The Boy Named If
Elvis Costello & The Imposters The Boy Named If Out Friday
Cat Power Covers Out Friday
Long ago, Elvis Costello released a single called 45. Now, aged 67, he has reached his 45th year as a recording artist. He’s an old-age pensioner who still reserves the right to be an angry young man.
His career has been a game of rounders with a stop at almost every base – post-punk rock, power pop, Nashville-style country, New Orleans jazz, a chamber opera (never performed) and a brand-new musical (coming soon).
His co-writers have included Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Carole King and the Brodsky Quartet. He has even worked with Richard Curtis, who persuaded him to croon Charles Aznavour’s She for the film Notting Hill.
Somewhat perversely, this is Costello’s most popular song on Spotify.
Long ago, Elvis Costello (above) released a single called 45. Now, aged 67, he has reached his 45th year as a recording artist
Now, finally completing his rounder, he has returned to the sound that set him on his way. His 32nd studio album is mostly fast and often furious. If you loved This Year’s Model – or its sparkling Latin spin-off, Spanish Model – you’re going to have a lot of fun with The Boy Named If.
The music is full of fierce energy, then sudden tenderness. Recorded remotely by Costello’s band The Imposters, it feels as it was bashed out in a heaving club at midnight.
The band are disciplined and committed, leaving the flourishes to Steve Nieve’s freewheeling organ.
It’s a concept album, of sorts. The ‘If’ in the title stands for ‘imaginary friend’, and Costello says it’s about ‘the time when you’re just leaving childhood’, with a few biting observations on the childishness of grown men. Does he mean us?
As on all the best concept albums from Sgt Pepper onwards, every song has its own personality. You can tell that from the track list alone: Penelope Halfpenny, Magnificent Hurt, Mistook Me For A Friend.
The lyrics and vocals are vintage Costello. He punches out the puns and the paradoxes (‘You could be the game that captures the hunter’). Every lyric tells a story: there’s even a book of the same name, written and illustrated by Costello himself.
One song depicts a murder, as seen by the killer, which is as close as Costello will ever get to singing Delilah.
When the adrenaline abates, he turns formidably pensive. Paint The Red Rose Blue is a pain-drenched ballad dealing with bereavement – something too many people now know too much about.
Then there’s a track called Trick Out The Truth. ‘Resting in the parlour,’ Costello gleefully sings, ‘playing cards with Gustav Mahler.’ It’s bizarre, it’s addictive, it’s Randy Newman meets Kurt Weill, and it’s the first great song of 2022.
In a perfect world, his fans would all play it on Spotify and knock She off her perch.
Costello is touring in June with The Imposters. When I saw them just before lockdown at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, they were on fire. Singing 17 songs from his first six albums (1977-81), Costello was back in his barnstorming heyday.
Soon he’ll be playing those classics again – and throwing in several new ones that are just as good.
Cat Power has always had a fabulous voice, easy on the ear yet piercing to the bone. It’s made for covers albums and here, as she turns 50, is her third.
Cat Power (above) has always had a fabulous voice, easy on the ear yet piercing to the bone. It’s made for covers albums and here, as she turns 50, is her third
While she could have worked harder on the title, she certainly applies herself to the songs, by artists ranging from Frank Ocean to Iggy Pop.
Like all the best interpreters Power is prepared to be bold. Tackling The Pogues’ A Pair Of Brown Eyes, she rubs away the rowdiness to disclose a ghostly sorrow.
At times the boldness is overdone: on Bob Seger’s Against The Wind she ditches a blameless melody.
And although every song is interesting, only two are gems. One is Kitty Wells’s It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, done in the style of Peggy Lee. The other is Billie Holiday’s I’ll Be Seeing You, the final track here and the strongest tune.
Singing it to friends she has lost, Power makes you feel her love.