Melbourne Age, January 6, 2006

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My Flame Burns Blue: Live with the Metropole Orkest

Elvis Costello teams up with a Dutch jazz orchestra to reinterpret his repertoire

Michael Dwyer

Lou Reed penned a curt dismissal of his detractors on the sleeve of his most radical album, 1975's Metal Machine Music: "My week beats your year." Similarly disdainful of critics, Elvis Costello's My Flame Burns Blue might be read as an equivalent riposte to those who would categorise and contain him.

This latest leap is all the more staggering for the fact that it's merely what the artist did on his holidays: a repertoire of his songs both well-known and obscure, meticulously rearranged for a live stand with a Dutch jazz orchestra. The Metropole Orkest show included a string section as well as Costello's faithful pianist Steve Nieve, so the scope is vast - from the relative simplicity of the late-era Attractions' ballad, Favourite Hour, to a howling and barking jazz nightmare version of Episode of Blonde.

It's not an occasion for '80s-new-wave purists. The sumptuous orchestral version of Almost Blue is reasonably faithful to Costello's Imperial Bedroom recording but Clubland gets a samba swing makeover with swirling circus interjections where the guitar hook used to be. Watching the Detectives is arguably the song it always wanted to be, a fantastic '50s film noir theme that dumps the reggae feel of the original in a thick fog of horns.

Some of Costello's jazz influences are specific: Hora Decubitus is a Charles Mingus composition with his own lyrics, while the title track adapts a Duke Ellington recording. If there's a default position though, it's the epic torch song Costello perfected with Burt Bacharach in '95. Their first co-write, God Give Me Strength, closes the show but a few previously unreleased ballads are highlights, especially the cinematic Upon a Veil of Midnight Blue and the unsettling Speak Darkly My Angel.

The depth of the orchestrations, variously arranged by Costello, Nieve and others, means this is an album that yields new treasures the longer you care to dig. It also comes with a bonus disc - a 46-minute suite from Il Sogno, Costello's score to an Italian dance adaptation of Shakespeare recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. Just in case you felt he was treading water.

Tags: My Flame Burns BlueMetropole OrkestLou ReedSteve NieveThe AttractionsFavourite HourEpisode Of BlondeAlmost BlueImperial BedroomClublandWatching The DetectivesHora DecubitusCharles MingusDuke EllingtonBurt BacharachGod Give Me StrengthUpon A Veil Of Midnight BlueSpeak Darkly, My AngelIl SognoWilliam ShakespeareLondon Symphony Orchestra

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The Age, January 6, 2006

Michael Dwyer reviews My Flame Burns Blue.


My Flame Burns Blue album cover.jpg
My Flame Burns Blue: the scope is vast

Artist: Elvis Costello
Genre: Jazz/Blues, Pop
Label: Deutsche Grammophon/Universal


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