Santa Cruz Sentinel, February 5, 1993

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Elvis gets strung out

Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet / The Juliet Letters

Scott Hipper

This is Elvis Costello singing with a string quartet and, despite the disclaimer in the liner notes, this is chamber music. Any fans of Costello's earlier work expecting him to do to string composition what he did to rock will be sorely disappointed.

It is also — shudder! — a "concept album," supposedly based on letters mailed to Shakespeare's fictional Juliet, although the actual text of these letters seems not to have been spun into the lyrics, which were mostly written by Elvis himself.

Said lyrics deal mostly — no surprise — with the topic of betrayed and otherwise doomed love. They are very well-written, but then anyone familiar with Costello's rock efforts would expect no less of him. The lyrics also would seem to be just at home sung alongside more standard rock instruments.

The Brodskys, who have already created quite a reputation for themselves in classical circles, play impeccably, and with great feeling. Also worth noting is that the compositions on which members of the quartet wrote or co-wrote the music show a higher degree of complexity than those written by Costello alone.

The main flaw of the album is simply this — the sounds of Elvis Costello's voice and a string quartet do not really go together very well. Had a more technically accomplished vocalist sung these same lyrics over this same music, the result might have been more pleasing.

Unfortunately, the listener ends up dreading each new appearance of that voice more and more as the hour-long album progresses. In the end one just wishes that this had either been a Brodsky Quartet album, without the baggage of giving Costello top billing, or that Elvis had just used a rock band instead.

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Santa Cruz Sentinel, February 5, 1993


Scott Hipper reviews The Juliet Letters.

Images

1993-02-05 Santa Cruz Sentinel page.jpg
Page scan.

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