Elvis Costello's involvement with opera singer Anne Sofie von Otter is more in a producer's role than as an artist on this unusual collaboration.
The clear purity of her voice is used on just two of Costello's new songs, the title track and the opening "No Wonder." He also adds lyrics to songs otherwise written by classical musicians like Flashquartet in a manner rather like his 1993 The Juliet Letters collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet. He also offers some of his older songs, including "Baby Plays Around," "I Want To Vanish" and his Bacharach collaboration, "This House Is Empty Now."
With peerless taste in songs, he also has her sing two songs from the Beach Boys Pet Sounds, which may be the most successful thing on the album, and tracks from Ron Sexsmith, Kate McGarrigle, ABBA and the Beatles ("For No One"). Costello is smart enough to blend the sentiment of Tom Waits' "Broken Bicycles" with Paul McCartney's "Junk," and it is on the latter where Costello's distinctive voice finally surfaces, six songs into the set.
It appears only sparingly on the album, mostly showcasing the Swedish mezzo-soprano in her rather stilted artful pop record. Like last year's Punishing Kiss by Ute Lemper, which used three Costello songs, it's a bit of an acquired taste, often too refined for the subject matter tackled. But in the right mood, it's magic.