With a spray painted cover and a vaguely profane sounding title, Momofuku (released May 6 on Lost Highway) drops a dozen sturdy-to-great tunes captured fast (a week and a day) in January and February of this year. Hovering somewhere near 30 studio albums at this point, Elvis Costello is fired up and frisky on a set that happily recalls Blood & Chocolate and the tougher moments of his early '90s catalog like "Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)." Without fuss or a conceptual shell — something Costello's work has had almost without exception for the past decade — Momofuku reminds us that ol' Declan MacManus can crap out purely great songs when he relaxes and does what comes naturally to him.
The title is a nod to Momofuku Ando, the creator of Ramen noodles and the first cup noodles. Given the rapid, no frills way Momofuku reached the world — initially it was planned as a quick digital download and vinyl release, and that after Costello announced he would stop recording altogether last year — one can only guess at why the noodle king got the shout out, though it may not be entirely complimentary. Costello's disgust with the empty fast food nature of the recording industry is well documented, so referencing the man who gave us instant soup encased in Styrofoam may tie into that distaste for monolithic, lowest common denominator thinking. His sights on corporate goons and (recording) industry mooks concerned with making a killing in the market, Costello cranks up his "Radio, Radio," proudly announcing, "Whatever I said about you / I didn't say it behind your back," fully aware that "It's not very far from tears to mirth" no matter where you stand.
All musing aside, the songs are uniformly solid, particularly the snarling head charge of "American Gangster Time," the sick bop of "Turpentine," the laidback Bossa vibe of "Harry Worth," the fuzzy, Farfisa fueled "Stella Hurt" and the slinky beach shuffle of "Go Away." Everything is grounded in Pete Thomas' pummeling jungle drums, Steve Nieve's sweeping keys and a powerful SoCal chorus that includes Johnathan Rice, Jonathan Wilson and Jenny Lewis, who proves a superb harmony foil for Costello, her sweetly sour coo flavoring Elvis' oaken croak like time touches whiskey. Pedal steel from "Farmer" Dave Scher (Beachwood Sparks) adds further atmosphere, but the overriding tone is a band laying it down live-in-the-studio.
Well constructed and well played, Momofuku is a happy affirmation of Costello's endurance and a meaty bone for those who yearn for Elvis' more straightforward early work. The indefinable "why" of classics like "Watching The Detectives" and "Pump It Up," the way they always make one dial up the volume and shake happily, is fully present on this entertaining slab that never dumbs things down. On "Stella Hurt," Costello barks, "This is not the last act of the story." Let's hope not if he's got this much ink left in his well.