Elvis Costello: The Boy Named If (2022)

Every year or two, I'll pick up the latest Elvis Costello. Some track will strike me, and I'll momentarily consider the album to be, finally, at long last, a return to form. And then I'll put the album aside and go back to listening to that amazing run of Elvis albums from the late 70s and 80s (or, to a lesser extent, some of his solid enough 90s work).

But I'm gonna go out on a limb and say, this time I mean it! Certainly, it's the first EC album in memory where I listened all the way through in one sitting, and then immediately circled back to replay a few of the songs. Sure, there were some moments on 2002's When I Was Cruel and 2008's Momofuku and maybe 2018's Look Now where my ears would perk up and I'd feel like the Elvis I grew up with was shining through. But The Boy Named If is chock full of those moments. Not that the album is a slavish recreation of the past; but the Imposters really sound like the Attractions of yore, punchy and poppy and a cohesive band unit. And Elvis drops some of the at-times unnerving musical side-trips and crafts a fistful of solid hooks to back his always-reliable lyrics.

Opener "Farewell, OK" is a frenetic rocker that sounds like not a moment has passed since Get Happy. "Penelope Halfpenny" and "The Difference" and "The Death of Magic Thinking" are all terrific pop numbers in a classic vein, songs where I don't feel obliged to listen just to show my enduring loyalty to Elvis. And "Paint The Red Rose Blue" is the rare latter-day ballad that earns its running time. Who knows, I may be over this in a week and back to Armed Forces, but for now I'm on board.

Here's "Farewell, OK":

...and a "Penelope" audio rip:

Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to put together a mix of EC standouts since 2000. I stuck with the more upbeat full-band tracks, skipping his forays into solo pop, classical, and country music (which isn't to say there aren't moments on North and Secret, Profane & Sugarcane I enjoy despite their absence here). It came out pretty great.