Well, there you go. It's just as well I'm not a betting man. I was convinced the double whammy of Donald Trump and a cancer scare would revive the angrier, punky side of Costello. I was expecting to hear his snarling, spitting vocals raging against the dying of the light (his own and the free-thinking world's generally). But no. Much of the planning for this album occurred last year, while he toured a set largely made up of songs from Imperial Bedroom, and that album provides the template for this one. This is the polished songsmith, the artisan who follows in the tradition of Burt Bacharach (who co-writes three songs here) and the Brill Building (Carole King co-writes another).
The King track, "Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter," is a tale of resilience; like others here, it's essentially a character-driven short story. "Stripping Paper" uses the moment when a woman, stripping wallpaper, finds a pencil mark indicating a child's height as the key that unlocks the story of a dissolving marriage. On "I Let the Sun Go Down," Costello probes a character whose opinions he surely disagrees with: a man mourning the loss of empire. With Costello's melodic skills at their peak, Pete Thomas's rhythms the epitome of subtlety and the keyboardist Steve Nieve high in the mix, where longtime Imposters/Attractions fans want him to be, there isn't really a moment of filler on the whole album.