Friday, April 8, 2022

Elvis Costello 36: The Boy Named If

Considering how many genres he’s spanned in his career—particularly in the 21st century—PR folks have an easy time of it whenever Elvis Costello releases “his most rocking album since” whatever the last one was that fit that description. In the case of The Boy Named If, this is not hype. The album crashes out of the speakers from the first moment, and more or less stays at that volume. Due to the nature of the post-Covid world, and the worldwide residences of individual Imposters, the album was pieced together via the mixing stage from at least five different recording locations. Yet incredibly, it sounds live and dynamic, a testament to the intuition and interplay of the performers, as well as the engineers.
With a nearly dissonant riff that keeps the song off balance, “Farewell, OK” is all spit and spite, a kiss-off like he’s often done. The title track limps into place like that of When I Was Cruel, but this is a better song as well as performance, with lots of input from Steve Nieve’s keyboards. While we’re talking throwbacks, “Penelope Halfpenny” recalls “Georgie And Her Rival”; his voice even sounds 30 years younger. “The Difference” threatens to be one of the character studies on Momofuku but emerges as a lost Brutal Youth track, right down to the violent revenge in the lyrics. “What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love?” expertly condenses the rustic Americana and propulsion of The Delivery Man, with some wonderfully chaotic fretwork. After all that onslaught, “Paint The Rose Red Blue” provides some welcome, not exactly useless beauty, but again, the violence in the lyrics isn’t focused, despite the strong melody. “Mistook Me For A Friend” kicks the pretty mood away with more verbose anger and throwback sound.
“My Most Beautiful Mistake” isn’t the first time he’s used a film set as a setting and metaphor; this one is notable for the harmonies and more prominent input from one Nicole Atkins. One of our correspondents pointed out the bass riff of “Magnificent Hurt” being identical to that of Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop”; as with “Farewell, OK” Elvis’s dissonant riffing against the key keeps the song fresh. “The Man You Love To Hate” is a noisy burlesque number, then Pete Thomas beats a busy tattoo on the busy samba of “The Death Of Magic Thinking”. “Trick Out The Truth” spews out a litany of rhymes and arcane references to describe a nightmare that’s more odd than scary, while crickets contribute to the tempo. “Mr. Crescent” also threatens to be another obscure portrait, but the song, a quietly strummed benediction, is much better than most of his similar titles.
The Boy Named If is basically the rock album Elvis Costello didn’t make for the better part of fifteen years, devoid of extraneous collaborators and dramatic works in progress. With Sebastian Krys he’s found a collaborator in the booth who can navigate his styles and whims. The Imposters continue to be valuable interpreters, and his voice is as sharp and melodic as ever, as if he’s been stuck in a time warp. It’s a welcome return. (Elvis also continues to save money on design by painting his own album covers. For those who had to have more, a limited edition package contained even more canvas daubs along with short stories to accompany each song that are as impenetrable as the lyrics.)

Elvis Costello & The Imposters The Boy Named If (2022)—

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