Worcester Telegram & Gazette, June 1, 2008

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Elvis Costello does it fast and well with Momofuku


Craig S. Semon

★★★

What do Elvis Costello and a cup of instant noodles have in common?

Both are definitely seasoned. Both need a little heat to stir things up. And when prepared right, both are scrumptious. But instead of adding water, Costello adds plenty of his dry wit to his winning broth.

Costello's latest disc, Momofuku (named after Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant noodles), was recorded in a week. It's not quite instant by recording industry standards, it's pretty close.

And that no fuss, no muss recording session has Costello — who opens for The Police on July 31 at the Tweeter Center for the Performing Arts in Mansfield — using his noodle while being allowing ample room for spontaneity to simmer.

In the age of blogs, downloads, MySpace and YouTube, the future is now and now it's time to duck and cover ... so goes the stinging sentiment on the rousing, rebellious opener, "No Hiding Place." Pumping it up with crunchy guitars, swirling keyboards, sparkling harmonies and thumping drums, Costello unleashes his endearing whine and elder statesman's wit that sounds as cool as it did 30 years ago. In what sounds like a swipe at Thom Yorke for offering free downloads of Radiohead's latest, Costello forecasts, "In the not very distant future / When everything will be free / There won't be any cute secrets / Let alone any novelty." As a different kind of Orwellian nightmare comes to fruition, Costello takes pride that his biting jabs and sarcastic asides were always out in the open and never hidden in a shroud of anonymity, as they are for today's Web critics and bloggers.

Costello delivers his best Lou Reed impersonation ever (more in spirit than delivery, mind you) on the gritty, streetwise garage-rocker "American Gangster Time." Unfolding like a cross between Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Dirty Boulevard" but at the same time being signature Costello, "American Gangster Time" weaves a series of sordid vignettes to show how the American Dream has become ugly and distorted. First, the song brings the listener uncomfortably close to a pill-popping prostitute who "buys what she wants and the rest she just steals" before introducing us to money-grubbing capitalists who are no better.

While "Turpentine" barrels out of the starting gate with thrashing guitars and thunderous drums straight out of "Tokyo Storm Warning," that's nothing compared to Costello's refreshing candor as he pours his guts out. On this sobering look at the "stolen time" and lives ruined by alcoholism, Costello (a problem drinker in the past) delivers a nightmarish internal monologue. In the end, Costello isn't sympathetic. He isn't even likable. He's just real, putting the darkest time of his life in harrowing perspective so others might avoid being imprisoned in a bottle.

On "Harry Worth," Costello, in full-fledged omniscient narrator mode, takes the listener from an idealistic couple's wedding day to the miserable pair going through the motions five years later. Accompanied by a cheesy bossa nova beat that juxtaposes with the bleak frankness of the lyrics, Costello warmly croons about the emotional wreckage of a failed marriage and when lovers that drift apart. With shades of "The Long Honeymoon," Costello creates a rich character study and telling lyrics that might make you think twice about walking down the aisle.

On "Stella Hurt," Costello's biting wit is matched by a combustible mix of crunchy guitars, a pounding piano groove and rat-tat-tat drums. Chronicling the rise and fall of a songbird as only a master storyteller can, Costello creates a vivid portrait of an innocent waif who makes the big time before being chewed up and spit out. It's Sex in the City meets The Old Testament on "Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve." On this modern-day passion play, Eve (as in the Garden of Eden) confronts Adam's new girlfriend at a cocktail party. Sounding contemporary down to its punchy arrangement and provocative banter, Eve chastises her lover for taking her for granted and not tending to her garden.

Costello's life unreels like his own "little spy movie" and "mystery caper" on the album's cool, garage-rocker closer, "Go Away." Weaving a tale of foreign espionage and international intrigue in his head, Costello laments how his partner (who he refers to as his "hand-painted villain") is not as thrilling as she used to be. Besides the fact that Costello exudes his young-man vigor in spades, the hip-sounding song can't lose with his arsenal of rumbling guitar grooves, shake and shimmy organ chords and strutty drum beats.

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Worcester Telegram & Gazette, June 1, 2008


Craig S. Semon reviews Momofuku.


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