Elvis Costello & The Imposters: Look Now

Elvis Costello & The Imposters
Look Now
(Concord)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

More than ever before in his stunning career, Elvis Costello writes growers. When he was in his late ’70s, early ’80s heyday, the agility of his lyrics was matched by his way with a punchy hook. That skill has in no way abandoned him; it’s just that he’s after something richer than instant gratification these days. And, more often than not on his new album Look Now, he gets there.

Recorded with the Imposters (old Attraction buddies Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher), Look Now contains occasional flashes of albums past. There is bit of the Beatlesque grandeur of Imperial Bedroom, some of the torch-song yearning of North, and, on the songs where Burt Bacharach co-writes, dollops of that elegant Painted From Memory heartbreak. But Costello, who co-produced with Sebastian Krys, never lets any genre predominate, sometimes shifting the overarching mood several times within a single song to follow the emotional content of the narratives.

Costello’s songs here concentrate mostly on the futile romantic escapades of the broken, how self-betrayal is intermingled with the betrayal of significant others. His characters, be it the washed-up showbiz hack of “Under Lime,” the wife of “Stripping Paper” recalling happier times, or the couple emotionally blackmailing each other on “Suspect My Tears,” all carry the songwriter’s lacerating self-awareness, yet are treated with equal empathy.

When the tempo revs up, as on “Under Lime” and “Unwanted Number,” the Imposters’ chemistry comes rocketing to the fore, with Thomas steady and spicy, Faragher providing melodic surprises, and Nieve ever tinkering with inventive touches. Costello also keeps the slower material from the doldrums by employing strings and woodwinds that evoke everything from George Martin’s erudition to Gamble and Huff grit. Follow Elvis Costello down the twisting paths of Look Now and you’ll find they lead to sublime musical destinations.