Elvis Costello, the self-confessed Invisible Man, returns. Off come the dark glasses, the bandages are unwound and drop to the floor to reveal his latest party trick. Although you can't see him clearly, he's right there beside you nonetheless; his power is alive in the room, in the air, coming out of the loudspeakers, a power which shakes you up and holds you to listen to what he has to say.
The Invisible Man's latest show of strength is undeniably impressive, 13 lucky punches aimed straight for the head and feet, all of which hit their target, some more forcefully than others.
Three we've felt before. "Everyday I Write The Book" is still pounding around the charts while "Pills And Soap," a song released in limited supply by his altar-ego The Imposter is made readily available here. Meanwhile "Shipbuilding," which was originally written for Robert Wyatt, is performed by its composer on this latest collection.
Where Wyatt's treatment of the song was akin to hearing somebody bleed to death, Costello's interpretation possesses an almost cabaret act quality in comparison. Over drifting TKO horns and carefully placed piano chords, he assumes the guise of a broken and lonely nightclub artist performing his final swansong before an audience drunk on media victory. Although slightly overshadowed by Wyatt's definitive version, Costello still menages to pump fresh blood into what I think is his finest composition to date.
Well renowned as being a man of few words (to the press, anyway, and to this publication in particular) Costello obviously prefers to express himself totally through the words of his songs. These, as on previous albums, are wild, witty, lyrical jigsaw puzzles teaming with cunningly distorted clichés and interlocked double meanings communicated to the listener in his familiar nasal (did I say nanny goat?) warble forever teetering on the edge of emotion.
Songs such as the fiery opener "Let Them All Talk," the strident jab of "TKO (Boxing Day)," and the wild catch of "Love Went Mad" tear furiously into the memory and refuse to budge. The work that is put into the songs by Costello, the Attractions and the TKO Horns is meticulously supervised and gloriously (if not slightly clinically) played to perfection.
Speaking as someone who has always viewed Costello suspiciously from afar, I was delighted to discover just how enjoyable a listening experience Punch The Clock turned Out to be. Clocking the cover, Elv's obviously heavily into the Beat Poet look as he looms out of the rigid Face/NME styled Letraset border in cloth cap and turned up collar, carefully fondling an earlobe and looking for all the world like the author ala wearisome, arty beatnik novel.
If you were to judge this particular "book" by its cover then you'd probably drop it like a hot potato, but once inside you'll be amply rewarded. Elvis Costello may be a poet but he's certainly not beat.