Vintage Springsteen last week, classic Costello now: what are these oldies putting in their tea? Recalling milestones such as the spittle-flecked propulsion of "Pump It Up," "Pills and Soap"'s spiky polemic and the balladry of Almost Blue and Painted from Memory, Hey Clockface glories in some of Costello’s strongest writing.
Embittered cynics, hopeless romantics, gun-toting revivalists and widowed war brides, charlatans, shysters, hacks and hicks: his cast of characters is richly drawn and he audibly relishes giving voice to them, snarling the invective and crooning the billets-doux. Costello sounds revitalised working with a jazz ensemble (and his old mainstay Steve Nieve) in Paris and writing to music devised in New York by Michael Leonhart, Bill Frisell, Nels Cline and others. "Newspaper Pane" and "No Flag" are hair-raisingly brutal; "Hetty O'Hara Confidential" and "The Last Confession of Vivian Whip" are, respectively, gleefully caustic and heartbreakingly bleak; "Byline" and "The Whirlwind" feature two of the loveliest melodies he has ever written. Sensational.