Elvis Costello has turned out to be the Leonardo da Vinci of contemporary music. Since his first album, My Aim Is True, came out several years ago, this 1980s Renaissance man has demonstrated his ability to play several types of music: new wave, country and western, even tunes that sound like Broadway.
On Punch The Clock, he continues to expand, adding Las Vegas-style arrangements to some of his songs. Brassy horns and cooing female backup singers take their place right alongside the more familiar sound of the Attractions.
For the most part, the experiment works. "Let Them All Talk," which opens the album, veritably boxes the listener's ears with the strength of its horn accompaniment.
On some pieces, though, like "Everyday I Write the Book," the backup voices only add an unnecessary touch of glitz to an otherwise strong pop tune.
Costello still is at his best when he's making social commentary through clenched teeth. "Shipbuilding" is a doleful look at the Falkland War that makes Pink Floyd's song on the same topic (from The Final Cut) sound like an advertising jingle.
He might not be able to design a flying machine and that cover photo certainly is no Mona Lisa, but, in a world of bands suffering from genre-lock, Elvis Costello remains a man who can do it all — and keep our attention.