Mojo, February 2022

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UK & Ireland magazines


Fire and skill

Tom Doyle

Costello and trusty trio hammer through a set of dark, guitar-fronted songs brimming with melody.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters
The Boy Named If
4-stars (out of 5) reviews4-stars (out of 5) reviews4-stars (out of 5) reviews4-stars (out of 5) reviews4-stars (out of 5) reviews

Those looking for a recap of the last couple of episodes of The Costello Show should be reminded that it's been a great season so far. 2018's Look Now mixed lively guitar pop with co-written Bacharach ballads to excellent effect, while 2020's Hey Clockface saw our central character travelling solo to Helsinki to deliver some of his best rattling, attitude-y rockers in years.

The narrative curve continues with The Boy Named If. Costello and co-producer Sebastian Krys have had reason to revisit the singer's late-'70s past in recent years remixing "This Year's Girl" from the original tapes for the title song of David Simon's The Deuce; reworking the whole of 1978's This Year's Model with guest Hispanic singers as last autumn's Spanish Model.

All of the above sets the tone for the most energised performances Costello has committed to record in a long time and — despite his protestations that The Imposters are an entirely different band (bassist Davey Faragher replaced the defrocked Bruce Thomas back in 2001) — his most classic Attractions-like album since 1994's Brutal Youth. Steve Nieve's Vox Continental organ gets heavy use, and the sexagenarian Pete Thomas is drumming with crackling energy. "Farewell, OK" is a thumping Merseybeat curtain-raiser than comes over like The Beatles playing "Hippy Hippy Shake" at the Star-Club. Meanwhile, the bandleader intensely attacks his trademark Fender Jazzmaster guitar in the riff and (rare) solo of the thrilling, '60s-soulful "What If I Can't Give You Anything But Love?," one of those Costello songs that you can't quite believe isn't somehow a cover version.

In many of the lyrics here, murky emotions are wrapped in rich, often second- or third-person characterisations, although the storylines are typically open ended. Often, these wholly unreliable narrators are either toxic males or women tangled up with them; the café table voyeur in "My Most Beautiful Mistake" might even be trying to lure a waitress into porn ("You'll be up on that screen for eternity"). Elsewhere the male protagonist of achingly beautiful country soul ballad "Paint The Red Rose Blue" is involved in a different kind of degradation: a slow eroding of his wife's spirit until only sadness remains.

Costello says the title track refers to "your imaginary friend … the one you blame for the hearts you break, including your own." He's played with alter ego before, not least in Brutal Youth's "My Science Fiction Twin," but the secret self in this song is both elusive and mischievous. All the same, amid the twisty, Imperial Bedroom-ish arrangement, the singer is keen to summon him: "Imagine me / And I'll imagine you, too," he belts out with real gusto.

It's powerful and provocative stuff, and utter proof that Costello's creative fire is still raging. Against all reasonable odds, Elvis (at 67) sounds younger than yesterday.

Tags: The Boy Named IfThe ImpostersThe Costello ShowLook NowBurt BacharachHey ClockfaceHelsinkiSebastian KrysThis Year's GirlThis Year's ModelSpanish ModelDavey FaragherBruce ThomasThe AttractionsBrutal YouthSteve NievePete ThomasFarewell, OKThe BeatlesWhat If I Can't Give You Anything But Love?My Most Beautiful MistakePaint The Red Rose BlueBrutal YouthMy Science Fiction TwinImperial BedroomDavid SimonThe Deuce

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Mojo, No. 339, February 2022

Tom Doyle reviews The Boy Named If.


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