It was certainly an inspired concept: nasal-voiced pop rocker Elvis Costello (whose recording origins spring from the English punk movement but who is omitted from Rhino's DIY collection, reviewed here last week) collaborating with the innovative violin/cello Brodsky Quartet to create a song cycle of letters.
The result is, unfortunately, not as exciting as the concept. Due to the lack of percussion and the often somber nature of the letters, there are long moments of sleep-inducing passages which mar the quirky brilliance of the other material.
The graffiti-inspired "Swine" and the irritating junk mail bark of "This Offer Is Unrepeatable" have a rascally, pirate-in-musical theater feel. The almost-pop undercurrents of the single "Jacksons, Monk And Rowe," the Beatles-ballad warmth of "The Letter Home," the stirringly gorgeous melancholy of "The First To Leave," and "I Almost Had A Weakness" (a nasty aunt's reply to a pleading letter) are perhaps the best results of the collaboration.
Late night listening brings out the more hidden charm of some of the other works, which range from letters from the afterlife to suicide notes to a description of a seance. There are fast, sawing string barrages, staccato tango lines, lush sad sighs of strings and themes that sound akin to a Gilbert and Sullivan opera.
It's a bit inaccessible for your average rock fan, but if you have an appreciation for musical theater and classical strings, a correspondence with Juliet would be definitely worth your while.