South China Morning Post, October 3, 2004

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South China Morning Post

Elvis Costello and The Imposters

Alister McMillan

Elvis Costello and The Imposters
The Delivery Man [Lost highway]
Elvis Costello and the London Symphony Orchestra
Il Sogno [Deutsche Grammaphon]

Elvis Costello suffers because we lack the talent to sing along with him. You don't hear Lan Kwai Fong bands covering Oliver's Army. Drunks don't touch Every Day I Write the Book.

This is no call for pity. Costello makes a handsome living from the kudos of his versatility. But while he complains - correctly - that he's too clever to be reviewed by most pop hacks, Costello fails to realise how rarely punters' fingers click along to his tunes of the past 15 years, at least. Even after all the stylistic wandering, he retains enough of the punk ethos to avoid vain guitar solos. Yet he buries songs in theatrical sentiment, opaque wordplay, vocal gymnastics and impenetrable arrangements. Few of his albums stand up for more than a few weeks, a crime mitigated when a new release appears at least every year. This time we have two. Is he compensating?

The Delivery Man brings Costello full circle from Almost Blue, the country album ridiculed on release in 1981. Re-issued with extras in July, it's now lauded as the start of his stylistic pilgrimage. The delivery man is the aggressive protagonist of a vague concept album. His woman is played by Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris, who provide the highlights. Former Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas join Costello for another go at roots, country and soul. The story strays into independent songs such as Monkey Man, the animals' perspective on life since 'a vicious creature took the jump from monkey to man'.

From the moment you see that Costello has made no attempt to alter the standard template for a classical music album cover, alarm bells should start ringing in Wing F, where they keep the vanity projects. Costello was invited by Italy's Aterballetto dance company to score an adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. He seems to have enjoyed mixing George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Debussy with the London Symphony Orchestra's usual fare. It sounds more like the score for a Spielberg film, but what would I know?


South China Morning Post, October 3, 2004

Alister McMillan reviews The Delivery Man and Il Sogno


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