Never one to shy away from adventure, Elvis Costello has spent the past eight years tearing up his original brief.
First he made an album, Wise Up Ghost, with hip-hop band The Roots. Then he assembled a supergroup with Marcus Mumford, to create fresh tunes for an unearthed box of old Bob Dylan lyrics.
Throw in the time spent writing his hefty autobiography and it seems that the singer born Declan McManus has been trying his best to avoid doing anything that sounds remotely like Elvis Costello — a theory given credence by his dismissal of his 2010 solo effort National Ransom as "the end of the line."
That is now changing, and his 31st album is one of the autumn's most pleasant surprises.
An impeccably crafted set of melodically strong, lyrically observant songs, Look Now will delight anyone who grew up with 1982's lush Imperial Bedroom and 1983's soulful Punch The Clock.
Another key touchstone is Painted From Memory, Costello's 1998 album with Burt Bacharach. The latter has co-written three poised ballads here (he plays piano on two) and his influence looms large.
With another track penned with Carole King, Look Now is steeped in masterly pop song-writing. Opening track "Under Lime" sets the bar high. A vivid sketch of an awkward tryst between a fading country singer and a clipboard-toting younger woman in the green room of a hokey American TV show, its scathing lyrics — "he whistles out of tune and his words don't always rhyme" — are set to an opulent arrangement that wouldn't have sounded out of place on The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album.
A tangled relationship is to the fore again on the Carole King collaboration, "Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter," which depicts a wife on the brink of walking out on a fading marriage.
Elsewhere, Motown pastiche "Unwanted Number" is written from the perspective of a spurned single mother, and the plaintive "Photographs Can Lie," one of several other songs featuring a female protagonist, sees a crestfallen daughter reflecting on the failings of her cheating father.
It's vintage Costello terrain. These songs don't quite take the singer, 64, back to the Mr Revenge And Guilt character that inhabited his 1977 debut album My Aim Is True, a record that blended punk anger and classic songwriting, but they pack an almighty emotional punch.
It also helps to have two members of his original backing band, The Attractions, back on board for the first time in a decade.
Keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas, augmented by bassist Davey Faragher, now call themselves The Imposters, and their presence adds a reassuringly familiar feel to songs such as blue-eyed soul number "Suspect My Tears."
The echoes of Imperial Bedroom are poignant, too. That album was produced by Geoff Emerick, the former Beatles sound engineer who died last week, and Look Now's intricate arrangements are a timely tribute.
As for Costello — who recorded his vocals while recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous malignancy (a scare he has constantly downplayed by insisting he was "extremely lucky") — it feels good to see him coming full circle to show his true colours again.