The tendency of many prolific artists is to become simpler in their musical direction as they progress or get older. It is like projecting that they no longer have the time and patience to be meticulous with their works or the energy that they used to emanate during their prime. However, there are those whose trajectory is the opposite—the more they mature, the more ornate, elaborate, and detail-oriented they become with their ideas. One of such artists is Elvis Costello.
Born on August 25, 1954, in London, England, Costello started his singing career in 1970, effectively associating himself with the Pub Rock scene of early-’70s London and eventually with the British Punk and New Wave scenes of the decade. Early on, Costello has already shown how inexhaustible he could be in coming up with original materials. To date, he has a sonic armory of 30 studio albums under his belt as a solo artist or as a frontman backed up by a group of musicians he dubbed as The Attractions and as The Imposters. From 1977’s My Aim Is True to the recently unleashed Look Now, Costello’s discography is as well marked by a slew of notable singles, such as “Alison,” “Oliver’s Army,” “Good Year for the Roses,” “Every Day I Write the Book,” “Veronica,” “All This Useless Beauty,” and “Complicated Shadows.”
Released Friday, October 12, 2018, through Concord Records, under Elvis Costello & The Imposters, the ever-impassioned artist’s thirtieth studio album is a well-crafted masterwork. Titled Look Now, it begins with the brilliant, upbeat, Baroque Pop track “Under Lime,” whose instrumental interlude is bubbling with lavish string and horn accompaniment—what a way to make the listener stop, look, and really listen! This is followed by the slow piano ballad “Don’t Look Now,” which will make lovers swoon in sweet romance—the first of the three songs in the album that Costello wrote in collaboration with one of his musical heroes, Burt Bacharach. Costello then returns the listener to the overall bright and sunny mood of the album with the soulful, saxophone-adorned “Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter,” which, this time, he co-wrote with Carole King.
Getting the balance really right, Costello turns sentimental and romantic once again by dishing out the mid-tempo piano-led and gracefully orchestrated “Stripping Paper.” The ensuing dim-lit dancefloor-ready “Unwanted Number” then bounces sexily with its Soul/R-n-B-flavored beat. Another Baroque Pop throwback, “I Let the Sun Go Down” might remind the initiated of similar ’70s-era excursions of Elton John (“Rocket Man”) or even as farther back as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band–phase The Beatles (“She’s Leaving Home”). With “Mr. and Mrs. Rush,” Costello rocks it out a bit, ’70s Motown style, conjuring images of Disco-savvy lads in faux afro and bell bottoms. The piano takes center stage again with the slow, heartrending “Photographs Can Lie,” only to soar slightly with the Light Jazz–tinged “Dishonor the Stars.” The starry-eyed Sophistipop “Suspect My Tears” then swings and sways like summer swallows by the seaside in the summer.
The penultimate track is a sudden change of style, taking the listener back to the memory lane of ’60s Sunny Pop balladry in the company of the likes of The Supremes (“I Hear a Symphony”), The Association (“Never My Love”), and Fifth Dimension (“Up, Up and Away”). Finally, Costello and The Imposters wrap up their latest album with the relaxing rhythm of “He’s Given Me Things.”
Already in his thirtieth work and yet Costello shows no sign of slowing down. Look Now is another product of his meticulousness and musical creativity. It may not be a unique addition to his body of works, but it surely is one of the standouts and a further proof of the tireless artist’s knack in songwriting. Cryptic Rock gives it 4 out of 5 stars.