October 7, 2004

This Year's Model

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I’d love to see what the offspring of Elvis Costello, who is married to jazzer Diana Krall, could do musically. If they’re at all like their parents, and their father’s newest album, The Delivery Man, we’ve got a lot to look forward to.

In an age of mass-produced pop, no-frills blues and Rock ‘n Roll is a nice breath of fresh air. Costello has acquired a somewhat iconic status as a symbol of a dying genre, but listen to this recent release and you’d think good music is still alive and well. A sublimely simple first track, “Button My Lip” introduces Costello’s personality appropriately. He doesn’t want to talk politics, or write fancy music, he is “innocent, mighty, and magnificent,” with his bluesy voice and occasional yelps of joy. The British star brings some contemporary legends in their own right in too — Lucinda Williams’s southern twang on “There’s A Story In Your Voice” and Emmylou Harris on two others. Indeed, these collaborators are a big part of the album’s quiet brilliance — musicians unselfish yet competent enough like pianist Steve Nieve and bassist Davey Faragher enhance Costello’s powerful compositions. Nieve is an especially choice addition to the group, The Imposters. His piano playing, carefully arranged and carried out with the ear of a seasoned musician, adds a special dimension of complex harmony. Be it a simple riff or using a Wurlitzer or Hammond instead of an acoustic upright, Nieve plays an instrumental role in this album’s success.

Another aspect worth mentioning is Costello’s versatility. The majority of Delivery Man is a combination of blues and rock, but occasionally he introduces southern ballads like “Nothing Clings Like Ivy” or a dark love song in the finale, “The Scarlet Tide.” Sometimes it’s his gritty guitar that defines a song — “Bedlam” seems to follow to prototypical Costello blueprint — one simple chord repeated, inverted, strummed, arpeggiated, or modulated. It seems boring, but Costello makes it work.

A potential criticism a listener might have is that on occasion Costello crosses the line into pop. Indeed, “There’s A Story In Your Voice” sounds conventional in its predictable chord progression, trite lyrics, and general mundaneness. But simply fast-forward one track to “Either Side Of The Same Town” and you’ll be reminded why Elvis Costello is a legend. Costello’s lyrics have no incredible impact, as either asset or liability. Sometimes they tell stories (which don’t make sense), try to be poetic (“And if I’ve done wrong / And loved you too long” is a little much), or are vents of charged ire (Costello’s just too nice to seem genuinely angry). It’s still a great album in every other aspect. Simple yet catchy, the album is ideal for a listen while wasting a Sunday afternoon thinking about whatever happened to good music.


Archived article by Elliot Singer
Red Letter Daze Contributor