When rumour becomes fact and people begin to believe that a new Elvis Costello album is about to be released the anticipation rises to a fever pitch not known since the heyday of the Beatles.
It is strange to think that someone who, although the greatest contemporary British songwriter, does not have a great fan following can create such an aura about himself. But then Elvis Costello is no ordinary man.
Punch The Clock, the new Costello elpee confirms in no uncertain fashion that its creator is so far ahead of the competition as to be untouchable.
Costello's last offering Imperial Bedroom, was the perfect pop album, outclassing all others. The matching of purely devastating lyrics to infectious hooklines was a textbook exercise in the art of perfect pop writing.
Punch The Clock continues in similar fashion. Again there are the thoughtful and intelligent lyrics and the powerfully compelling melodies and again there is the exquisite production that is unmatched by anything being done in European rock circles today.
But the album is enhanced by another development in Costello's growth as a musician of note. Imperial Bedroom saw Costello writing, quieter, more personal songs devoid of the oft ill-paced anger of earlier works. That trend continues here, continues and develops.
Added to the quieter mood are the TKO Horns and the vocal skills of the Afrodiziak Singers, which helps to beef up the occasionally slight Costello sound. Indeed, young Elvis has not released an album of such “power” since Armed Forces.
It would be a fruitless exercise to attempt to take away any one track from Punch The Clock and hold it up as an example of what the album is about. There are too many subtle shifts and changes for one to do that. Suffice to say that every track comes straight from the heart.
In terms of Costello's mellowing attitude it is interesting to see how he has learned to comment on the universal by writing about the individual. Like Bob Dylan, he has found he has the gift of discovering the truth in the battleground of one to one relationships.
The mellow softening should not be seen as a surrender by Costello. The lyrics are still as angry and as chilling as ever; it is the voice that has calmed down, but the calmness only adds to the pain and terror of the words.
As on "Shipbuilding," Costello's painful look at the Falklands War which gave Robert Wyatt his first hit in years; as on "The Invisible Man" and "Charm School." But the pain is worth it when one considers the talent of the man who can distil a lifetime of agony into half a dozen well-chosen words.
Punch The Clock is another change of direction for Elvis Costello. Once again he has used the space available to him to develop his music and let it grow and that can only be good for him, the music and his fans. Eight albums on and Elvis Costello's aim is still true.