Writing about 25 years ago, for a summer section in which Age journalists mapped out crucial albums in their vinyl collection, Shaun Carney described Elvis Costello's fourth album, 1980's Get Happy!!, as being the soundtrack of his life during a stint as a Canberra correspondent; if he was in the vicinity of the record player, it was on.
It's doubtful anyone will have that reaction to National Ransom. It's by no means a bad record, returning to the songwriter's deep taste for American forms, with T Bone Burnett producing songs that take in sprightly Nashville melancholy ("I Lost You") and Dixieland laments ("Jimmie Standing in the Rain") but it's hard to compete with a back catalogue too fierce to become mythology. Punk-rock's great outsider never bottomed out like the storied names of the 1960s — he has no Nashville Skyline — and now he's capable and eclectic, striking his strongest notes on "One Bell Ringing." But time and experience haven't transformed Elvis Costello; he's a stubbornly older version of what he's always been. You can appreciate National Ransom but it won't become your life.