Elvis Costello is a new wave/pub-rock artist from the UK. He is nothing short of an icon of popular music and one of the most respected writers of all time, despite having only one platinum certification and not a single number one album over his four decade career. While he hasn’t had the kind of commercial success one would expect from legend, you’ll be hard pressed to find an influential artist, post-1970 who isn’t a fan.
His sound is hard to nail down as, over his long career, Costello tried his hand and multiple writing and instrumental styles. However, there is a general punk slant to much of what he’s done, as well as an affinity for the orchestral composition of new wave. He’s also flirted with jazz influences, recently working with The Roots on his 2013 release, Wise Up Ghost. Most of all, his lyricism is unique, poetic, and above all, powerful. Most fans agree that his massive discography is simply devoid of weakness. Because of this, I was over the moon to hear of Look Now’s release, and for good reason.
Costello’s vocal, though aging, is quite effective on this album. Slower selections like my personal favorite, “Don’t Look Now,” are obvious examples of this, but he also keeps up well on tracks with beefier instrumentals, such as “Burnt Sugar is So Bitter,” or “Unwanted Number.”
In addition, his lyricism hasn’t lost a beat. “Under Lime” tells a unique story dealing in sexuality and relationships, while “Photographs Can Lie,” is a beautifully written tale of love gone bad. On this LP, Elvis writes about life with the voice of a man who’s lived it, seeing new angles to old stories, and showing a wonderful understanding of love, change, and time.
All of this, however, pales in comparison to the real highlight of Look Now, the excellent instrumentation. Elvis’ most recognizable musical partners, The Imposters, join him on this project to incredible effect. The bass guitar is active on tracks like “Mr. & Mrs. Hush,” or “I Let the Sun Go Down,” pushing the tracks along while providing a playful depth to each of them.
The drums set a danceable groove on track after track. The rimshots on “Why Won’t Heaven Help Me,” are the highlight of the verses, while the open high-hat on “Under Lime,” moves the song to a perfect tempo. The rest of the album sees the drums take a more laid back, but equally important back seat, with an especially impressive ear for cymbal accents.
Beyond the basic band instrumentation, this album’s palette is quite broad. The choirs on “Suspect My Tears,” and “Under Lime,” are fantastic, while the keys on intimate pieces like the beautiful “Stripping Paper,” or the closer, “He’s Given Me Things,” are simple and perfect. This record also features some excellent horn and string parts that build an orchestral sound and leave listeners wondering excitedly what they might hear next.
There are very few complaints to make here. There are a few pacing issues, with most every track landing somewhere between three and four minutes and following a similar form. Costello’s voice can be a bit much at times, showing age by wavering on longer notes and in the higher reaches of his range.
Aside from these small issues, Look Now is an exciting addition to Costello’s massive catalog. The mastery of form and helming of such a broad palette is the kind of skill which only comes from the kind of long, storied career this man has under his belt.
Look Now is a fun listen, and yet another project from one of the greatest musicians of all time.
HEAR LOOK NOW: https://open.spotify.com/album/7dvbHsQbTs5RqE9iRgXHCC