Like Albert Reynolds, Elvis Costello has changed tack so many times by now that, to call him fitful would not have you up before the libel courts.
A casual perusal of this spiritual savant's body of work will show a man driven by the demon of change. He is not one to stand still for very long. As such, Costello has been all things to all marketing men: Declan MacManus, The Imposter. A Coward Brother, Napoleon Dynamite. As he changed guise, the four-eyed genius also changed genre, taking in along the way music as diverse as country, soul and new wave.
And now, good God, classical music.
Only a soothsayer could have guessed the direction Costello would take after Mighty Like A Rose, and here, at long last, is the proof. Featuring The Brodsky Quartet, The Juliet Letters is an intriguing — even for Elvis — collection of kitschy numbers to be filed away under "Curio" along with Sinead O'Connor's Am I Not Your Girl?.
Full of cellos and other classical-sounding utensils, it centres on the letters an academic from Verona wrote in reply to those addressed to Juliet Capulet (who, you will remember from your English class, was The Bard's Juliet.) Sound strange? It is.
Elvis has his own opinion on the matter. "This is no more my stab at classical music than it is The Brodsky Quartet's first rock 'n 'roll album." Whatever it is, The Juliet Letters takes repeated listening to get to the bottom of it. Though, once there, you should find something you like. Songs like "Dear Sweet Filthy World" and "Taking My Life In Your Hands" are Elvis's latest lamentations over a world doomed to displease him, and very clever they are too. Other ones, like "This Offer Is Unrepeatable," however, leave me cold.
The songs are uncharacteristically mannered, sounding like they were designed rather than experienced. The unkind might say that Costello has really shown this time that he's two frets short of a guitar and eight notes short of a song, but no matter. As a stop-gap, while he readies the sequel to the unimpeachably sublime Mighty Like A Rose, this will do.
But only just.