"I wish that I didn't hate you — least, not as much as I do": "Needle Time"'s rancid opening line speaks for both Costello's unquenchable narkiness and this album's prevailing itch to get stuck in. Recorded in Oxford, Mississippi, and unrelated to last year's somewhat Sondheimy North, it moodswings between heartfelt country-soul and the rudest rut-and-grunt swamp rock.
The melancholy depth of "Country Darkness," "Heart-Shaped Bruise" and "Nothing Clings Like Ivy" are simply the best of one familiar Costello. But the roiling, tinshack clamour of "Button My Lip," "Bedlam" and "There's A Story In Your Voice" (a howling row of a duet with a pissed-off Lucinda Williams) lurches away into an uncharted, dirty, violent, emotional wasteland.
So: songs terrific, band sensational, and — big plus — Costello's voice late-developing way beyond that pinched whine into an instrument of substance and character.