Sydney Morning Herald, May 9, 2008

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This year's Elvis Costello album is a blast from the past

Bernard Zuel

This year's Elvis Costello album is pop. Meaty with guitars and organ, replete with melodic bass lines, a cascading series of straight-to-the-point choruses, backing vocals stacked in layers (including a regular female voice from the most excellent Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley) and the kind of swinging energy which in lesser hands would be merely empty swagger.

It was laid down quickly, sometimes with songs written only hours before entering the studio, with the core contributors being old muckers keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas plus comparatively recent bass player Davey Faragher. It begins with an acerbic examination of human behaviour (in this case on the net: "In the not very distant future when everything will be free / there won't be any cute secrets, let alone any novelty"). And it was initially released on vinyl, with the CD version still divided into "side one and side two".

That is the headline news for those who regularly complain "why can't he do songs like the old days?" when the musically peripatetic Anglo Irishman, now resident in New York, takes excursions into earthy early R&B, pre-rock balladry, orchestral manoeuvres, jazz ensembles or the esoteric.

You want This Year's Model? Check out the "Radio Radio"-like Continental organ vamping it up in "American Gangster Time." After some Trust? Dip into the rumbling claustrophobia of the verses in "Turpentine." Need some Blood And Chocolate grunt? Step into the distorted guitar world of "Stella Hurt." Looking for Imperial Bedroom? Take up the narrative and Beatlesque backing vocals of "Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve." Got a yen for Brutal Youth's mix of pop and assertive rock? Pick up the harmony-and-punch of "No Hiding Place."

Beneath the headline, there is a more complex story to be told, of course. For a start, none of those songs mentioned could really be called straightforward recreations of days of yore. A "vocal supergroup" does pure pop vocal arrangements, some unashamedly pretty choruses rise up and there are signs of more recent off-road trips in the doo wop-flavoured blue-eyed soul love song "Flutter & Wow," the sweaty R&B of "Go Away" and, perhaps most surprising for those who skipped the bare emotional honesty of his North album, the frank and affecting sentimentality of "My Three Sons."

There is no fuss really. It is in the end the kind of pop record that firstly satisfies on the palate and then lodges in gut and brain. A pleasure.


Sydney Morning Herald, May 9, 2008

Bernard Zuel reviews Momofuku.


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