There's no doubt about it — Elvis Costello is an old man. From his penny loafers to the massive amounts of time spent in the Florida Keys. the man's reputation for being a rock 'n' roll star is dwindling. Last year's disappointing North didn't dispel the rumor that the once great, snot-nosed British nerd-punk icon was softening with age. The album — a piano-laden love homage to his wife — was a failure only because people chose to view it through history's eyes.
This year's The Delivery Man — similar in style and structure to 2002's seminal When I Was Cruel — has Costello's focus pointed in all the right directions again: slamming out guitar riffs with the spite dripping from every last verse.
The Delivery Man was inspired by Johnny Cash, or that's what Costello wants his listener to believe. Unfortunately. it's hard at least to see how the plainspokenness of the late country singer has anything to do with Costello's preening sensibility.
Released simultaneously with Delivery Man, Il Sogno follows in a long line of out-of-the-ordinary projects for Costello in between proper albums. Acting as the score to a ballet adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Nights Dream. Il Sogno finds Costello branching almost too far from his roots to make any immediate impact. At times, it comes off as forced experimentation done in the spirit of branching out and thinking beyond the proverbial box. This, undoubtedly hurts the artist because it forces listeners to either criticize his roots ("He's not a classical man") or ignore his experiments ("To be honest, I fell asleep.")
Costello combats criticism of his varied musical stylings, calling out critics that lambast the singer for changing his horse mid-race as dehabilitating his creative and artistic ambition. Although, as he experiments with classical, country ("Country Darkness") and everything in between, it becomes more ingrained and Costello's long-time flaws come into focus. His incessant lyrical ineptitude, writing songs that come off as an undergrad who discovered a thesaurus, smothers any creative decision he makes musically.
The end result with both of these albums is Costello feeling isolated and backed into a corner by the world around him. The Delivery Man comes off as prissy and uptight in his Southern environment. His backing band, The Imposters, is musically verb tight, but juxtaposed with Costello's academic wit, the songs sound too much like they were forced.