Review: With His New Album, Elvis Reemerges as Classic Costello

Elvis Costello/The Boy Named If/Capitol
Four out of five stars

Videos by American Songwriter

As a rule, one doesn’t know quite what to expect from the generally irascible Elvis Costello, especially given the fact he’s tended to stray into a remarkable array of directions and digressions over the course of a captivating career. That said, The Boy Named If finds the prodigal punk back in familiar territory, retracing the sounds that first brought him to prominence nearly 45 years ago. So while his efforts at retracing classic country, R&B, chamber music, and the sturdy standards of decades past have won him ongoing admiration, it’s comforting to find him revisiting his original turf and offering up the petulant sounds of his earlier endeavors. 

In that regard, this new offering brings to mind many of Costello’s initial albums—My Aim Is True, Armed Forces, This Year’s Model, and Imperial Bedroom, among them—given that most of these songs are similar in their stance to the diatribes that defined him early on. “Farewell, OK,” “The Boy Named If,” “What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love?” and “Mistook Me for a Friend” possess the same angst and edginess that personified that approach, flush with the same insurgent attitude that inevitably cast him as a surly curmudgeon and an otherwise outspoken individual. 

As a result, specific comparisons to Costello’s classics are unavoidable. The reggae rhythm driving “The Difference” brings to mind “Watching the Detectives,” while the drama and defiance found in the aforementioned “Mistook Me for a Friend” echoes “Radio Radio” in its snarky sarcasm. So too, “Magnificent Hurt” conveys the same didactic delivery as “Pump It Up,” just as “Paint the Red Rose Blue” and “Mr. Crescent” recall the other side of Elvis, specifically the tender  touch of “Allison” in particular,

Clearly then, Costello’s aim is still true. Reunited with former Attractions/Imposters Steve Nieve on keys, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher, the 67-year-old provocateur is imbuing his senior years with the same verve and veracity infused in those earlier efforts. 

I took a little walk, I took another stimulant, he confesses in“Magnificent Hurt.” I shed a single tear for my predicament. Don’t be surprised or insolent. It’s the way you make me feel

Happily then, that’s no cause for complaint. No excuse is necessary. Costello is right back where he belongs and the rewards are that much better as a result. 

Photo by Diana Krall / Shore Fire Media

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