Throughout most of the 1990s, Elvis Costello abandoned his sneering "angry young man" sound in favor of ambitious projects that saw him collaborate with everyone from pop icon Burt Bacharach to the classically trained Brodsky Quartet.
In 2002, Costello released When I Was Cruel, arguably the best album of his career and a reminder to all the modern wannabe punks in the music industry that a middle-aged singer-songwriter with big nerdy glasses could rock harder and with more class than they ever would.
Just as quickly as he returned, Costello has bid adieu once again to ferocity with North, an intriguing yet ultimately disappointing collection of slow jazz tunes fit for a high-class piano bar.
With his voice, a blend of John Lennon and Bob Dylan, Costello is a unique non-singer whose often shrill and nasal delivery has gained more respect in time thanks to the naked desperation behind it. Even when he sings quiet love songs, he conveys the urgency of rock into his microphone.
However, no matter how much passion lives inside Costello's vocal chords, North still sounds lifeless thanks to songs that prefer to drift instead of sinking their teeth into listeners and creating lasting impressions.
Of the album's 11 tracks, only "When It Sings" and "Still" strive beyond underwritten piano accompaniment and combine reasonably established melodies and varied acoustic arrangements with Costello's heart-tugging voice.
Although the album does nothing but enhance Costello's reputation as the most artistically daring of all rock risk takers, North shows off an artist who became a legend by writing mad songs taking a rare misstep into overly mellow territory.