Artists release new music and we all get excited, retweet, share… and forget all about it. Well, the fight back starts here. And has done for the last few years. The twist this time? It’s time to declare that new music is new music, no matter what the vintage of the artist. By Alan O’Hare.
New music is new music is new music. There’s a growing tendency to ignore new material from older artists, as the demand for heritage, legacy and classic product strips away our appetite for something new. It’s gotten so endemic that Elvis Costello, the greatest songwriter with Liverpool links since John and Paul, actually said a few years back that he was finished making albums. Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case and Costello has put out a few underrated records since (‘Momofuko’ and ‘National Ransom’ in particular). Sure, the tail still wags the dog and how we listen to music now makes more noise than what we’re listening to, but the album will never die. There’s too many people making excellent new ones.
Our hero is one such person and I was pleased as punch when news reached us recently that his 27th studio album proper (or something like that) will be in the shops and available online this Autumn. ‘Look Now’ was recorded in Hollywood, New York City and Vancouver with The Imposters (The Attractions minus Bruce Thomas, but with the beefy bottom end and sweet singing of Davey Faragher) and contains twelve new songs. Or sixteen if you get the deluxe edition… with two new tunes available INSTANTLY. “That’s just the latest record business gimmick-speak for something you can get right away,” deadpans Costello. “I have to be straight with you… it sounds like a personal service that you might be offered in a dubious massage parlour.”
That acerbic wit has never changed. Thankfully, though, the music has. These days, Costello brings the sophisticated musicality he’s developed over the years into his ‘day job’ and doesn’t compartmentalise projects. “I knew if we could make an album with the scope of ‘Imperial Bedroom’ and some of the beauty and emotion of ‘Painted From Memory’, we would really have something,” he revealed. It was a change in his ethos that perhaps started beneath the surface of the still waters of ‘North’ and then sailed a straight line to his last album, the The Roots-assisted ‘Wise Up Ghost’.
The new music? So far, so good. ‘Unwanted Number’ opens with the promise of Motown, matched with the atmosphere of the poppier moments of ‘Blood & Chocolate’, before a big chorus arrives to remind you that Costello has always shot for the stars, no matter where his hat lays. The song itself has been rescued from ‘released on a soundtrack’ (‘Grace Of My Heart’, 1996) loneliness and re-recorded to add drama to the kitchen sink-Supremes story that sits snug inside a magnificent melody: “They don’t know that he was kind and warm and tender / How can I tell them how it felt to step out of this life and into his embrace?” It’s Smokey Robinson born in Birkenhead and I love it. You can almost see it opening gigs on the next tour, with Steve Nieve’s keyboards turned up loud and sucking everyone into their soulful swirl.
‘Under Lime’, the second song Concord Music (EC’s latest label) have tempted us with, opens up like modern-day Bruce Springsteen with stacked percussion, strummed acoustic guitars, bright piano chords and a stuttering bass line, before Costello enters the picture with “it’s a long way down from the high horse you’re on” and we’re back on familiar terrain for anyone who loved the noir tales of ‘When I Was Cruel No.2’ and ‘Jimmie Standing In The Rain’ on the Detour solo tour. Clocking in at nearly six minutes (you paying attention at the back?), ‘Under Lime’ turns taut around two minutes in – with what sounds like Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band entering the picture – and the singer takes the tale on twists and turns whilst The Imposters pay strict attention to rhythm and tunes. “Producer Sebastian Krys was there to make sure only the essential notes got onto the record, whether it was a fuzz-tone guitar or a jazz bassoon,” Costello has said. It’s an important note, that… too many records released by songwriters of gravitas suffer from somebody else’s inability to say ‘no’. Going back to my original point at the top, maybe that has been part of the problem over recent years for records released by ‘classic’ artists: they want to do it all themselves and the edit invariably suffers. It was the start of this century when the afore-mentioned Springsteen thought about taking his E Street Band back into the studio and called up then-ace producer Brendan O’Brien as “we have no idea how drums should sound on the radio now”. That’s the kind of grace note that will always offer the opportunity of great music being made and thankfully it’s one Costello and his Imposters have noted, too.
On July 6th this year, it was announced that Costello was cancelling the final shows of a European tour to recover from a recent surgery that had “defeated” a “small but very aggressive cancerous malignancy”. But, just a few short weeks later (and with tickets on-sale for another tour later this year), here we have news of a new album and two tunes brimful of the vitality that only an artist who stands in the now can offer. “Day is dawning, almost sounded like a warning,” sang Costello on 2008’s beautiful ‘My Three Sons’. We can all hear that clock ticking, but only a few of us can stop time…
Keep on making records, Elvis.
‘Look Now’, by Elvis Costello & The Imposters, is out on October 12th 2018.
Pre-order your copy now
Pic by James O’Mara