Why can’t Elvis Costello act his age( 53) and settle into that elder rock statesman mode — you know, take it easy and putter around and put out a new record every couple of years?
In the past decade or so, the hyperactive renegade has recorded, let’s see, a classical dance score and a live jazz-rock collection, a set of orchestrated art- pop. collaborations with Burt Bacharach and Allen Toussaint, jazz pianist Marian McPartland and soprano Anne-Sofie von Otter.
With the release of "Momofuku” (Lost Highway). he’s also managed to slip in three albums of original rock songs with his trio the Imposters (not to mention one of B-sides and left-overs).
This pace can appear amusing and exhilarating, like having a dotty older relative who keeps flying off on exotic excursions. It might not generate an artist’s finest, most focused work, but there’s something to be said for freedom, and if it’s mainly for his own benefit and a now cult- like audience, so be it. And he still gets to open those big concerts for the Police.
“Momofuku” (the title is a tribute to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen) doesn’t have the unified feel of 2004’s “ The Delivery Man," with its binding agent of Southern music and imagery. But it’s more driven and inspired — if sporadically — than ”When I Was Cruel,” the album that brought Costello back to rock in 2002 after a six- year hiatus.
Costello has trod this turf before in his long career. and the album finds a balance between the disappointment of familiarity and the freshness of execution.
Its flavor is forged by a cast of Los Angeles indie- ish musicians that included Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis, former Beachwood Sparks “ Farmer” Dave Scher, Johnathan Rice, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and the Like’s drummer, Tennessee Thomas, whose dad, Pete, is a member of Costello’s backup band, the Imposters.
Costello sets them loose in various combinations with his regular players, and their singing and playing bring a spontaneous drive and an experimental garage rock stamp to the best moments. The songs jump from almost classic Costello ( a la "Armed Forces”) rock (the opening “No Hiding Place”) to comical cocktail vamp (“ Harry Worth”) to soul ballad (“ Flutter & Wow”).
Some of the songs toward the end seem downright slight (“ My Three Sons,” Song With Rose,” "Go Away”), but in all it’s a rewarding, rambunctious ride.