Elvoid is back! No more string quartets! No more dust-dry airless chamber-pop lessons from the schoolmarm! He's back, he's ...
... shouting a lot. Costello returns to battle, with the mighty Attractions watching his back, and the banners fly. After years of crackers Neil-Young-like behavior, there will be no more stubborn turns down ever-narrowing stylistic corridors, no more career Kevorkian.
The sound of Steve Nieve's cheesegrinder organ and Pete Thomas's clattering drums is good for some dampness under the eyelids as the sentimental rock hacks pine for '79. The Attractions are back, the cellos are gone, there's enough vitriol to go around for everyone, and "13 Steps Lead Down" captures the venom and pop momentum of Armed Forces-era Elvoid. Everybody's happy.
Still, Costello can't shake the stylitus he picked up over the last half-decade, shoehorning admittedly lively ideas into all manner of pop corsets. Lay some blame at the feet of producer Mitchell Froom, who indulges like there's no yesterday.
And there isn't, not when the desperate direction of the great albums is dissipated into pop conceits from the Beatlesque to the baroque.
It's not the "doot-doots" that sink "Clown Strike," but the melody-free bridge and a vocal sticking up like a splinter. And if the singing in "20% Amnesia" is Costello's idea of angry-middle-aged man, it may be time for the Tagamet. Nah, hadda be Froom's fault.