Review of North
Chicago Sun-Times, 2003-09-21
- Laura Emerick
ELVIS COSTELLO, "NORTH" (DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON)
Since some other smart-aleck will undoubtably make this remark, let
me be the first: Elvis prematurely used up the title "When I Was
Cruel." Because if anything resembles cruelty, it's this ambitious
yet ultimately frustrating effort.
Costello, who has tackled chamber music, Broadway ballads, Purcellian
odes and other musical exotica, delves once more into the Great Beyond,
forgoing rock for another artistic diversion. With its release on the
storied classical music label Deutsche Grammophon, "North"
ostensibly aims to reinvent pop music as lieder (classical-style art
songs). A song cycle, along the lines of Schubertian masterpieces like
"Die Winterreise," "North" traverses an emotional
journey: the first half contemplates the end of the affair, while the
rest examines the stirrings of new love.
Or as Elvis cryptically hints on the press notes: "The record
begins with a song called 'You Left Me in the Dark' and ends with 'I'm
in the Mood Again.' You have to listen to what goes on in between to
find out why." As for the title "North," Mr. Inscrutable
offers: "That's where I'm headed."
Unfortunately, on a cursory listen, "North" sounds like a
50-minute dirge, destined to alienate all but his hardcore fans. But
if you probe beneath the gloomy introspection, you'll find exquisite
arrangements for ensembles ranging from a trio to an 48-piece orchestra,
with ever-tasteful and sensitive vocals from Costello in his best crooner
mode. It's all austerely gorgeous but ultimately hollow, evoking yet
another Costello title, "All This Useless Beauty."