Elvis Costello sings like the boy next door who spends years never getting the girl — but in the end, Flashboy is shown up as shallow and Four-eyes flays the lot of them. Is he always dreaming of success, social and sexual? His songs are acute observations of boy-hopes-for-girl.
He sings with wide-mouthed elongated vowels and throat-stretched melodies, lip-licking whining — but he does it in tune.
It's his eighth album and the best so far. After "Watching the Detectives," much of his music has been disappointing — experimental, pleading but lacking tuneful interest. Now he's combined sharp words with catchy tunes.
One of the best and bitter tracks is "Pills and Soap": "Children and animals. Give me the needle, give me the rope. We're gonna melt them down for pills and soap." Biting words to a slow-clap beat, bare words from a bruised lyricist and melodic, too.
This runs straight into the finale, "The World And His Wife," a hopeful, jolly song and a clever contrast.
Some songs are slow and pathetic; others on this album are fast and musical — all are extremely well played; all blend well.
It was hard to admit to my dislike of Robert Wyatt's version of "Shipbuilding." Costello wrote the words and sings it in a very similar style. But I like it so much better. You may, too. The Costello vocals and horn combination are more soul-reaching than anything Wyatt achieved.
Open-conversational Costello writes listenable lyrics. For several years he seemed overrated, a wimpy wordist with — couple of good tunes — but now he's proved himself.