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Elvis Costello - The Boy Named If (Album Review)

Thursday, 20 January 2022 Written by Jacob Brookman

Elvis Costello’s 32nd studio album is great: a spiky, literate five course meal of a record created over the tail end (we hope) of lockdown with longtime bandmates Pete Thomas (drums), Steve Nieve (keys) and a relative newcomer in Davey Faragher (bass). It demonstrates the ongoing imagination, hunger and skill of the English songwriter, who at 67 continues adding to a rich catalogue of intelligent, storied, genre-defying pop music.

Unlike early records, which were sometimes hostage to fads in music production, ‘The Boy Named If’ is a tonal bullseye in balance, voicings and mixing, with Costello’s own driving guitar squirting out between Nieve’s fairground Wurlitzer organ and a hugely versatile rhythm section.

Mistook Me For A Friend demonstrates this ably: a bitter song full of energetic ingenuity and rhythmical variation that, were it spooled out for longer, could probably be called prog-rock.

Actually, this track is one of the most gloriously throwback on the album, with sections knowingly resembling his classics Radio, Radio and Pump It Up, a particular favourite at US sports games.

Another wonderful song is the languorous shuffler What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love? This is songwriting gold even by Costello’s standards. The chord changes and melodies are bewitchingly stitched together with zeal and panache, and the Fender Rhodes-voiced keys add warm tinkling to the blood and thunder of the lyrics.

Costello is at his best when he is investigating emotions other songwriters do not touch: complex feelings of betrayal and resentment. Like a documentary filmmaker, it is often the subject matter itself that makes his work so rich—the nuts and bolts of creating the artwork can feel secondary when you're wrapped up in these stories.

In this regard, ‘The Boy Named If’ is a musical journey in the truest sense. The cogency with which Costello jinks from power ballad to pub rock to chamber pop is intoxicating, and his lyricism may have actually improved over lockdown. While contemporaries’ output withers on the vine, this punk poet continues to find new ways to innovate. It’s his best album in years.

Elvis Costello Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sun June 05 2022 - BRIGHTON Dome
Tue June 07 2022 - GLASGOW Royal Concert Hall
Wed June 08 2022 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 City Hall
Fri June 10 2022 - LIVERPOOL Philharmonic Hall
Sat June 11 2022 - MANCHESTER Opera House
Mon June 13 2022 - BIRMINGHAM Symphony Hall
Tue June 14 2022 - LEICESTER De Montford Hall
Thu June 16 2022 - OXFORD New Theatre
Fri June 17 2022 - BATH Forum
Sun June 19 2022 - PORTSMOUTH Guildhall
Mon June 20 2022 - SWANSEA Arena
Wed June 22 2022 - IPSWICH Regent Theatre
Thu June 23 2022 - LONDON Eventim Apollo

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