Quite what has happened to Elvis Costello's career trajectory of late is hard to fathom, yet it's certainly fair to say that the prospect of a new album doesn't exactly provoke waves of giddy excitement. Maybe it's because he's just spread himself too thin across the genres of late and lost something of that unique identity that made him special. On first glance, The Delivery Man is yet another exercising in Costello dabbling, this time — as the look of the record, the label and the appearance of Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams would suggest — in alt country.
Far more thrilling a discovery is that the fire seems to be back in Costello's belly again. "Button My Lip" sets the tone for the record, a snarling, almost tuneless, rant against the world in general. For all the sophistication of his recent forays into easy listening, jazz and classical, there is still a visceral thrill to be taken from hearing that distinctive voice whipped up to a rage. Encouragingly, The Delivery Man is just the record to restore the faith in those who take their cue from his thrilling early days. Most songs come with the backing of just drums, bass and long term cohort Steve Nieve on piano, giving them a gloriously raw feeling — something enhanced by the appearance of the gravel throated Williams on "There's A Story In Your Voice."
That anticipated country element does indeed appear in restricted amounts, its simplicity enhanced by the contrast.
All in all, The Delivery Man is close to an essential Elvis Costello record — and when was the last time we were able to say that?