The mid-'70s arrival of British punk rock allowed all sorts of unexpected stars to make their mark. Sting, a struggling jazzman joined The Police and went on to become the biggest selling solo artist in the world.
A pub rock also-ran called Ian Dury got a chance to unleash his mighty rhythm stick and a nation swooned. Then there was Elvis Costello — a bug-eyed bespectacled jukebox delivering songs of sweetness, pain and sorrow.
In the years since punk Elvis — aka Declan MacManus — has been a type of rock 'n' roll Zelig. It was Elvis whom Paul McCartney turned to when he was looking for a new John Lennon-style songwriting partner.
Costello collaborated with the other Elvis's backing band on the cheekily titled King Of America and he served time in the cheese trench with King of Easy Listening Burt Bacharach. When top US chat show host David Letterman went on holiday, Elvis presented his show. He's been a political activist, made albums with classical quartets and jazz bands, and appeared in the Spice Girls' movie. No wonder we've sometimes got sick of him.
Recorded in the wake of his divorce from former Pogue Cait O'Riordan and remarriage to US jazz star Diana Krall, his last album North was an over-ambitious set of Sinatra-style torch songs. The Delivery Man, made in Mississippi for Nashville label Lost Highway, mines his country-soul roots and could hardly be more different. It is also by some distance the best Costello album in a decade — poignant and pointed songs delivered with no fuss or over-elaborate dressing.
From the eruptive jittery opener "Button My Lip" to the gorgeously weighted "Heart Shaped Bruise," this is an album where Elvis plays to his core strengths.
In the past his voice has been a problem, but the earthy material here suits it fine. He deals with personal wounds ("Country Darkness") and universal turmoil ("Bedlam"). Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and long-time band members Pete Thomas and Steve Nieve help spread the load.
The sense of purpose and telling lyrical detail provide the proof — Elvis has most definitely not left the building.