One difference between Elvis Costello and the Dylan of half-a-generation earlier is that whereas Dylan fans were reluctant to accept his inherent changes, Elvis fans see Costello's as self-evident.
Another difference is that whereas Dylan charted his own moves, not to mention those of countless imitators, Elvis assumes the modern mood that of the rock star as journalist, absorbing what is going on around him and pumping it into his music.
Hence the singer songwriter of '77 becoming the first complete new wave artist, then refining his craft for the world market.
Producing The Specials was an indication that his next shift would be in the direction of black music and the recent Midlands scene has dropped him squarely on the surface of the R&B revival.
Old soul will never let you down and on at least five of the tracks we have The Attractions playing at being Booker T and the MGs. To some extent this is a shame. Elvis has more to offer than sixties pastiche and one wonders at a song like "Temptation," which numbers "Time Is Tight" almost note for note.
At other times the genre suit him. The words of "I Stand Accused" perfectly parallel his own lyrical obsessions and his band are a match for anybody. Repeated plays of the album reduce the soul connection to a veneer affected by the incomparable Lowe/Bechirian production team and when you consider there are 20 tracks on the LP, then perhaps there is room for a little contemporary indulgence.
Furthermore, the majority of the record is classic Costello, the killer cuts even surpassing the quality material of the first three albums. "Riot Act" is one-such, dripping impending hopelessness amidst its soul-searching rifts.
The first magic moment, however, is "Motel Matches," a brief lament crammed full of his hall-marked convoluted couplets and unusual similes with a bass-line far-removed from the preceding Stax-style moodiness of "B Movie."
There are certain songs which he obviously wrote before deciding to join the soul revival and "Matches" and the almost country "Human Touch" are two of them, Both are characteristically fine studies in introspection enhanced by sensitive arrangements which subtly highlight the instruments, particularly Steve Naive's wiry keyboards.
Like the opening side, side two starts busily before "Opportunity" cops the intro from "River Of Salt." Then he gets his chops round some meaty lines chock-ful with some classic contrived rhymes. Try "The Chairman of this board is a compliment collector / I'd like to be his funeral director" for size.
Other tracks could be from the first album, such as discreet, subversive "Secondary Modern," which like "High Fidelity" grabs a typically sixties cliche for its title, a la "Senior Service."
As a rule, by the second side most of his soul aspirations have worked themselves out and we're left with catchy, unforgettable tunes like "King Horse," complete with mean lyrics and irresistible keyboards, based hooks.
"Man Called Uncle" is a bitter broadside aimed at a rival, who is older while the delicious "Clowntime Is Over" is built around one of the most marvellously melodic organ tunes you're likely to hear all year.
Yeah, this album offers a lot and like any important work, things keep on emerging even after repeated plays. Undoubtedly it will be his best seller to date and still be regarded as a major milestone long after your Regatta De Blancs and Eat To The Beats have been laid to rest.