Never shy about experimentation, Elvis Costello applies his lyric scalpel and considerable voice talent exclusively to the ballad on his new album, North.
Eleven tracks, all written by Costello, chart a course from wounded to recovered. This is material that dances on the edge of maudlin without falling. The fifth song, "Fallen," carries off a perilous autumn-leaves metaphor on the strength of Costello's baritone and simple piano chords with a touch of strings.
Even casual fans — who may have skipped his collaborations with the Brodsky Quartet or Burt Bacharach — have seen glimmers of this side of Costello in songs such as "Alison" or "Shipbuilding."
But the tendency here is more contemplative — a shade slower and more lush. Not quite so angry (though still unforgiving of his own foibles). Perhaps sadder, but wiser, too. And we are all the richer for that.