Orlando Sentinel, May 16, 2008

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Costello's latest lacks a hit but still carries a punch

Jim Abbott

That odd name for Elvis Costello's new album is a reference to the inventor of instant noodles, and that dish would be an apt metaphor for the album's appeal.

Even after multiple spins, it's hard to find a song that's an exquisite triumph, yet somehow the dozen tracks collectively manage to satisfy. In keeping with the instant noodles idea, these 12 songs were banged out in a week: In one song, Costello — who performs with the Imposters as opening act for the Police tonight at Amway Arena — shouts out instructions for the band to "go to the bridge!"

Despite the tight timetable, the album is always sonically engaging as it careens from noisy rock to sambas to vaguely country ballads.

That strength goes a long way toward compensating for wordplay that doesn't immediately connect with the urgency of Costello's signature work, or even well-constructed latter-era songs such as When I Was Cruel's "45."

Instead, it sounds more like Costello is cobbling together his influences into songs that are merely exercises in his craft. Without even a loosely overarching theme — as there was in When I was Cruel or The Delivery Man, to name two projects — the songs lack some punch.

Put aside such quibbles, however, and Momofuku is still a quirky creation that's worth taking the time to know.

The strongest offering is the opening "No Hiding Place," a shimmering amalgam of classic Costello elements. Over 4 minutes, the song unites clanging guitars, a driving beat, textured keyboards, harmonies and even a thread of pedal steel guitar. Above it all, Costello isn't angry, but has plenty of an older man's righteous indignation:

"Next time someone wants to hurt you or set alight your effigy," Costello spits, "don't call on me to help you out. Don't come crying to me for sympathy."

That's not the only song that rises to his high standards: The simmering samba rhythms on "Harry Worth" offer plenty of room for the weathered worldliness of Costello's voice.

"Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve" again showcases that voice against a backdrop that lovingly apes an old '60s R&B chestnut.

If the material consistently matched the singing, Momofuku would have been more than a quickie treat.


Orlando Sentinel, May 16, 2008

Jim Abbott reviews Momofuku.


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