Costello's sixth release (in near record time) is a cinematic turnabout; not only his briefest record in many outings, but also his most consistently produced and best executed work since his debut, My Aim Is True.
Which isn't to say that Elvis has in any way limited himself. There is the predictable country, a nifty tribute to infidelity, "Different Finger," some splendid rockabilly, pop, and some of his craftiest ballads.
Two exquisite piano and vocal numbers, "Watch Your Step" and "Shot With His Own Gun" demonstrate the crooning ability of Costello. The former is a funky shuffle that swings on a powerful bass line while the latter is an almost classical piece, one of Costello's gentlest compositions.
Don't think that Costello has sacrificed his reputation for the bizarre, though. Eerie lyrics are in abundance on such originals as "Big Sister's Clothes and "You'll Never Be A Man." A frolicking duet with Glen Tilbrook (of The Squeeze) on "From A Whisper To A Scream" recalls much of the drive and roughness of Armed Forces.
This is the glossiest record Costello has ever slipped through his clever web of deception. There is little waste. Only the hard rockers seem weak in comparison to such strong material.
A record so full of treasures makes it hard to focus on any one highlight. "New Lace Sleeves" and "Clubland" are among the best pop Costello has ever composed, with enough hooks and melody to fit any AM playlist. "Pretty Words" is a particularly engaging piece of pop, with the lines, "Pretty words don't mean much anymore; I don't mean to be mean much anymore."
Costello is promoting himself, as an endearing little imp rather than the angry man of the past. Whether he should be trusted in this or any of his other projections doesn't really matter, because he can be trusted to produce some of the best and most intelligent popular music being recorded.