No better way to start off the year than with a new album by one of my favorites. Since the Stiff label named Elvis king in 1977, there have never been enough recordings by him to satisfy me. Despite a few splotchy albums along the way, the quality of this guy's work has never failed to amaze, amuse and delight.
This new LP (which might have been subtitled "More Songs about Boxing and Time") shows Ol' El' not to have slipped even half-a-rung on the ladder of superiority, and yet it doesn't seem to carry quite the immediacy of such works as My Aim is True or Armed Forces. The album can be termed his most heavily R&B (yes, even including Get Happy) influenced to date (on the supporting tour, he's covering the O'Jays' "Backstabbers"), even to the point of Motownly putting the hottest tracks at the first.
Speaking of which, "Let Them All Talk" could easily serve as the theme for a sports show, and (thank goodness for belated good taste) "Everyday I Write the Book" is actually receiving domestic airplay. Other superb tracks include "Mouth Almighty," a paean to the eternal femme fatale, and "Pills and Soap," one of Costello's best lyrics ever.
There is, in fact, only one track on the album that I find constantly disappointing — "Shipbuilding." The lyric is good, the music is more than acceptable, and E.C.'s idol, both vocally and instrumentally, Chet Baker, contributes a lovely trumpet solo. But it appears that half the players were too laid back, the other half too hyper, and it just doesn't gel. I understand that Robert Wyatt has covered this track already, though, so that can be something to listen for.
The disc as a whole might not sell you on Elvis if you're not already a fan, but if you have any love for the quirky Cos, this is an album that is definitely worth having. A word of advice, though — I am one of those guys who kept begging for lyric sheets with Costello albums. Now that the past two of them have carried the lyrics, I can safely say that it is much wiser to get well-acquainted with the stuff in the grooves first, then dive into the wonderful wordplay on its own level. I guess it's just part of the fella's genius that he can craft a song strongly enough to stand on its own even if you don't understand everything he's saying.