Q, November 2018

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Soap operas

Elvis Costello & The Imposters / Look Now

David Cavanagh

Focusing on failed relationships and regret, Costello's eye and melodic gift are as sharp as ever.
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A woman is worried that her marriage is breaking down. An alcoholic entertainer on a TV show has an embarrassing backstage fumble with a girl on the production team. Desperate housewives. Guilt-ridden affairs. The profundity of everyday dramas, Elvis Costello's new album calls to mind the EastEnders producer who said, "If Shakespeare were alive today, he'd be writing soap operas."

Costello's first release since a hip-hop collaboration with The Roots in 2013 (and since having surgery to remove an "aggressive cancerous malignancy" earlier this year), Look Now is a 12-song set that includes co-writes with Burt Bacharach and Carole King, This is high-pedigree pop-soul in the style of Costello's 1982 song "Tears Before Bedtime." It's a good sign when his talismanic keyboardist Steve Nieve features prominently, and he certainly does here.

Costello's lyrics are subtle, penetrating and often written from a woman's perspective. His voice has the huskiness of a 64-year-old. but his words mine the rich psycho-emotional soil he's been gleefully drilling into since his 20s. if we recognise the couples in "Stripping Paper" and "Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter," it's because we met them on Costello albums in the '80s and '90s when they were already half-submerged in regrets. Nowadays he reads their glances like an open book.

As for the Brexit-tinged "I Let The Sun Go Down" ("I'm the man who lost the British Empire"), could its hapless anti-hero be our referendum-calling ex-PM David Cameron? If he is, the swishy melody and elegant horn arrangement are a damn sight more than he deserves.

Listen to: "Under Lime," "I Let The Sun Go Down," "Stripping Paper."

Tags: Look NowThe ImpostersBurt BacharachCarole KingTears Before BedtimeSteve NieveStripping PaperBurnt Sugar Is So BitterI Let The Sun Go DownUnder LimeThe RootsWise Up Ghost

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Q, No. 391, November 2018

David Cavanagh reviews Look Now.


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Page scans.

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Cover and contents page.
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