Elvis Costello forced his fans into the wayback machine for his latest release.
Over the last two weeks, devotees could only hear the new music by buying it on vinyl — an ancient substance known only to those over 50 or anyone employed as a hip-hop DJ.
Starting today, Costello lets the rest of humanity fast-forward to the modern age. Finally you can download the disk to your heart's content, or even buy it in the moderately old-fashioned form of a CD.
As a Luddite protest — or an attention-getting gimmick — Costello's move shows pluck and resolve. The stunt also has the scope of conceptual art, allowing listeners to ponder the past as they fondle the gaping gatefold package of Momofuku and listen to wizened needles scrape through its modern grooves. To ensure the best possible sound — regardless of how stinky the system that we play it on — Costello released the songs on two vinyl slabs, letting the grooves breathe and resonate.
Costello didn't only reference the past in the album's form, but in its content (remember content?). Momofuku sounds a lot like an Elvis Costello album from his own vinyl age. A hard-rocking record, the disk could be slipped right between Get Happy and Trust (circa 1981) and not be out of place.
That's got to be a good thing. Here's an even better one: Costello didn't just try to re-create an older sound. For this project, he gathered a bunch of younger artists (including the wonderful couple Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice) to warble along, forming a choir that gives the songs a rich new sheen. Think Trust as backed by Fleetwood Mac.
Costello and the gang wrote and recorded these pieces in a flash, which explains why he named the album after the guy who pioneered the fast-food phenom of ramen noodles.
Luckily, the resulting disk doesn't feel tossed off, but fresh. Its brisk tunes, dense lyrics and passionate performances would excite listeners no matter how they hear them.