Observer Music Monthly, May 2008

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Observer Music Monthly

UK & Irish newspapers


This year's model is good enough to eat

Elvis Costello / Momofuku

Graeme Thomson

An album informed by noodles? Graeme Thomson tells us not to worry: this is Elvis at his best.

Elvis Costello began his recording career in 1977 at Stiff Records, a label renowned for its canny, cavalier marketing escapades. Thirty years on, the old dog hasn't forgotten the tricks of his trade. The decision initially to give his new record a vinyl-only release wasn't simply a defiant declaration that albums should still be regarded as unified works of art (Momofuku even opens with the sneering couplet: "In the not very distant future / When everything is free"; are you listening, Thom?), it also ensured that by the time Momofuku slipped out as — inevitably — a CD and download, it had received more attention than anything Costello has done since the invention of the iPod.

And deservedly so. This is easily Costello's most instinctive, least self-conscious record of original songs in over a decade. Taking its name from the man who invented instant noodles (rather than the trendy New York eatery), Momofuku was recorded quickly — just add water and stir — in the company of the Imposters and a host of friends, including Jenny Lewis and David Hidalgo.

Costello sounds enthused and utterly uninhibited throughout. Now 53, the angry young man of legend is long dead, but his friendships with Elton John and Sting, his upcoming role as a TV host, and a second swing at fatherhood (movingly recounted on the reflective ballad "My Three Sons") certainly hasn't dampened down his fervour. Instead, his evident contentment has infused his music with a relaxed, joyful dimension. Momofuku harks back to the days when Costello's albums harboured no aspirations beyond herding a fistful of great songs together and firing them out into the world. In contrast to recent thematic works (the stiff rhythmic base haphazardly applied to When I Was Cruel; the muted piano music of North; the loosely conceptual Delivery Man; the collaboration with Allen Toussaint on The River in Reverse), Momofuku jumps distractedly all over the place in the manner of classic Costello records of yore.

For all his impressive reach, Momofuku provides persuasive proof that simplicity and directness still suit Costello. It's telling that the highlights recall the landmark work he did in the first decade of his career: the soulful "Flutter and Wow" revisits the gentler corners of Get Happy!!; "Harry Worth" echoes the sticky lounge music of "The Long Honeymoon"; while "Go Away," "American Gangster Time" and "Stella Hurt" crunch along on a wave of disdainful put-downs and cheesy organ like long-lost outtakes from This Year's Model. Meanwhile "Turpentine," a rueful backwards glance at Costello's dread drinking days and the emotional ransom they extracted, crackles like a less regimented "Tokyo Storm Warning."

Elsewhere, he returns to the mid-Sixties beat-pop that first inspired him. "Mr Feathers" is particularly wonderful, stumbling through the minor keys like a cross between "Sunny Afternoon" and "I'm Only Sleeping," but the fact is that Momofuku is a fresh, punchy joy from top to toe. And full marks for getting the word "galoshes" in there.

Download: 'Turpentine', 'Stella Hurt', 'Mr Feathers'


Observer Music Monthly, May 2008

Graeme Thomson reviews Momofuku.


2008-05-00 Observer Music Monthly page 73 clipping 01.jpg


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