In a recent Q&A with the London-based Financial Times, Elvis Costello was asked: Which matters more to success, ambition or talent? The 64-year-old English troubadour answered matter-of-factly, "Once upon a time, I would have said ambition without talent was worthless. Now I'm not so sure."
Earlier this month, the ambitious — and extraordinarily talented — Costello released his first new album with his band The Imposters in 10 years, the cohesive Look Now, on Concord Records. One critic mused that "it's not just craft but touch, not just energy but sensitivity. On Look Now, Costello and The Imposters have both."
After Costello revealed earlier this year he had survived a bout with a "small but very aggressive" cancer, word of a new album was very welcome news. Produced by Costello and Sebastian Krys, the songs comprising Look Now represent some of Costello's best career work. His sophisticated and transforming songbook runneth over with simplicity and immediacy.
Whether immersing himself in pop, rock and roll, country, Americana, soul or jazz, among the many genres that he's mastered over many years, Costello shares many lessons learned and we're rewarded with songs that are as literate as they are artful. The gifted storyteller has returned in fine form.
Costello, who paired with Burt Bacharach on 1998's Painted From Memory, has reunited with the master songwriter on three impressionistic tunes, "Don't Look Now," "Photographs Can Lie," and "He's Given Me Things." Bacharach's piano lines are both poignant and beautiful — and reminded me of some of his brilliant late '60s pop collaborations with lyricist Hal David. Costello also penned "Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter" with another songwriting giant, Carole King, that is soulful with its female choir. Throughout the album, Costello can still be acerbic and witty, lamenting and sad in his lyrics. There's a fine balance between rock and balladry in Look Now.
As one critic noted, "Look Now is much more than an exercise in nostalgia and pastiche. As the title implies, it's very much of the present, and the work of a master storyteller who's learned more than a few things from the past."
In a recent Pitchfork review, its critic concluded, "As a collection of tunes, Look Now is a triumph for Costello, a showcase for how he can enliven a mastery of form with a dramatist's eye. But as an album, Look Now is a success because of the Imposters. ... They are a sharp, supple outfit that can swing and sigh, sometimes within the same number, as when they effortlessly pivot between boss's nova verses and a radiant chorus during 'Why Won't Heaven Help Me?' This subtle sophistication and palpable flair make Look Now more than a mere set of songs — it's a record worth getting lost within."