Elvis Costello - North
Elvis Costello refuses to stay in one place too long. He could have made a career of recycling the classic pop melodies and arrangements of My Aim Is True, but instead he chose to continually redefine his music with increasingly radical departures. Sometimes the result is glorious (all of the early Attractions albums, King of America, Painted From Memory); sometimes abysmal (Mighty Like a Rose, Kojak Variety). This time out, he follows last year’s disappointing When I Was Cruel by crooning and bellowing his way through ballads wrapped in jazz and classical arrangements. Collaborating with Mingus Big Band, Jazz Passengers, and the mesmeric Lee Konitz on sax and Steve Nieve on piano, Costello led all of the arrangements and also brought back the Brodsky Quartet for one song and Marc Ribot for the scant 12 bars that contain electric guitar. Lyrically, North forms a complete song cycle, beginning with “You Left Me In the Dark” and progressing to “I’m In the Mood Again.” The songs are surprisingly heartfelt and straightforward for someone who has built a reputation as one of the best songwriters this side of Dylan based on extreme density, opacity, cynicism and anger. North is a quiet album that demands patience of its listeners, but those who make the journey are amply rewarded. It is, quite simply, sublime.