Melbourne Herald Sun, October 30, 2020
Elvis Costello releases his musical love letter to the
Elvis Costello marvels at the "glamorous jet set lifestyle" which made his new album Hey Clockface.
The recordings started in February when he took a detour to Helsinki in Finland en route to London to fashion some musical ideas in his head in a small studio with musicians he had never met before.
And then it was on to Paris where another eight or nine songs were brought to life.
The night he landed in the French city, it was the birthday of his longtime pianist and friend Steve Nieve.
"He was also celebrating the delivery of his French passport and I stood in his apartment with his partner and all of their Parisian friends, all with our arms around each other, eating cake and drinking champagne and singing the Marseillaise," Costello says.
"All things you would think are reckless if not actually dangerous right now.
"And the next day we were up early to get to the studio in St Germain."
As Costello shares the mental postcards of the making of Hey Clockface, he is ensconced with his family, jazz artist Diana Krall and their twin sons Dexter and Frank, at their home in Vancouver.
It was where he finished off the record and a raft of new songs have come to life for future projects with both artists having to curtail their touring plans for the indefinite future.
Besides competing with his sons for bandwidth as they homeschooled and he composed and recorded, and a long drive to pick up grocery supplies, Costello is grateful for the unexpected opportunities the shutdown offered the family.
"We were in a little cabin on Vancouver Island … I got to watch my wife put her record together, which is something I never really get to see in such detail," he says.
"Not that she's asking my opinion every step of the way but at the end of the working process, I got to sit and have the premiere of the playback of that record knowing that she put everything into producing these sessions and that was a beautiful thing.
"I might have otherwise been on a tour bus going to Tuscaloosa or somewhere.
"And likewise I was there with my young lads who were into their virtual schooling."
Hey Clockface continues Costello's dizzying exploration of musical boundaries which kicked off in the 1970s when he emerged at the vanguard of New Wave with enduring classics such as "Alison," "Watching The Detectives" and "Pump It Up."
The British songwriter has successfully experimented with jazz, classical and pop standards across the decades and his 31st studio record fuses elements of all of these strands.
The threads which bind the disparate themes and sonic palettes are his voice and a sense of immediacy, with most of the sessions – excepting those in New York which were conducted via telecommunication – completed in days not weeks.
The song titles alone, including "Revolution #49," "Hetty O'Hara Confidential," "The Last Confession of Vivian Whip" and recent single "Newspaper Pane," pique the listener's curiosity.
Hey Clockface could be the soundtrack to a movie which is yet to be made.
"The recording sessions were something like a dream you had that came true. There were some stories that are beneath these songs but those are for people to discover themselves," he says. "There are some clues within the album package that will lead the way to that.
"This music goes from the extremes of something like 'No Flag,' a song for the day when you get up and have no hope, no faith, no allegiance, nothing will give you solace – and obviously I don't dwell there every day – my experience is that it's better to sing that out, to get it outside myself.
"And there's 'Hetty O'Hara,' which compared with the other Helsinki tunes, is the comedy number of the album."
Costello is also a master of the love song, as evidenced by "I Do (Zula's Song)" and the album closer "Byline."
"It's about the love letter you never quite had the courage to send, that might have changed the course of your life," he says of the final song.
"I believe that's a story people will recognise; it's obviously not something I am living in this moment but a story I imagined.
"You know, you can remember the way things felt… I don't think I necessarily have to have been having that experience to know what is true in a story I am writing or we would be sending all the crime novelists to jail for murder, wouldn't we?"
Costello predicts he will have at least another two records ready to go by the time international borders are opened to touring, to his jet set lifestyle.
"It's been a couple of years since I've last been to Australia. I've got to hope that the next couple of years when things do improve we will be able to return," he says.
"By then, we might have two or three records worth of new material to play you because who knows what speed we can keep making things if we have to wait much longer to return to the road.
"But right now, I am glad that we did this."
Hey Clockface is out today.
Tags: Hey Clockface • Revolution #49 • Hetty O'Hara Confidential • The Last Confession Of Vivian Whip • Newspaper Pane • No Flag • I Do (Zula's Song) • Byline • Steve Nieve • Diana Krall • Alison • Watching The Detectives • Pump It Up • Australia
Melbourne Herald Sun, October 30, 2020