on September 21, 2004
I must preface this by stating that I've been a lifelong fan of Elvis, purchasing "My Aim" Is True" as an import before Elvis had a US label. I have historically purchased everything he's released and enjoyed a great deal of what I've purchased. That's not to say I haven't had my disappointments (last year's "North" didn't stay in heavy rotation - good musically, but it just didn't engage me). "The Delivery Man", on the other hand, is a delight. It has a deliberately sloppy sound - the amps were mic-ed live in the studio and there is obvious spillover of the instruments between the various microphones - and gives you more of a "live" sound. It's also chock-full of the usual comples arrangements without feeling forced. Steve Nieve's keyboards sometimes take you back to "This Year's Model"
or "Armed Forces" and then come back to an immediacy that has been lacking as of late (as talented a musician as Nieve is he can occasionally bog down in some self-indulgent drama - not so here). Pete Thomas is still about the best rock drummer in a Jackson Pollock-y way (takes seemingly simple beats and uses them to perfect rythmic effect). Davey Faragher is just a revelation, he does some great harmonizing, particularly on "Either Side of the Same Town" and hardly makes me even think of that other bass guy. I could probably go on for several hundred more words but to summarize: if you like Elvis, it won't disappoint. If you've been disappointed by him lately, this may win you back. (I'm listening to his "Il Sogno" score - today's other new release - as I write this. I like it).
on March 1, 2005
Elvis is my main man. I've bought the catalog in 8-track, cassette, 45s, vinyl, imported vinyl, CD, imported CD, imported reissue CDs, reissued domestic CDs...and I've done this strictly for the music. So, if, like me, you don't feel like shelling out another $15 for a disc you just bought--as enticing as the bonus disc is--allow me to direct you to iTunes, where the extra tracks are available at 99 cents each. I love ya Elvis but you're killin' me.
If you thought "North" was just to layered and marshmallow creamy, this is just what you were waiting for. The crashing mesh of "Button My Lip" is the most cacophonous album opener Elvis has led off with since "Uncomplicated." Instruments bleed over into each other, Elvis shouts and stutters his way through the lyric and at times, it sounds like the musicians are barely in time with each other. It's the kind of chaos Elvis has shifted away from over the past few albums.
As soon as he gets that moment out of the way, he jumps back to his country mode with "Country Darkness." It's almost as if the carefully crafted roots music of "King Of America" has been wed to the distorted and venomous "Blood and Chocolate." Elvis has made the comment that he wanted this to be his Johnny Cash album, and "The Delivery Man" frequently hits that mark. It would be easy to envision Cash insinuating "The Judgment," or even "Heart Shaped Bruise." "Bruise," one of two standout duets with Emmylou Harris, again shows Elvis' genuine affinity for country weepers. The Oscar nominated "The Scarlet Tide" (from "Cold Mountain") closes the album as gently as "Button My Lip" tears it open. It's not everyday you hear a rock album with a ukulele solo. And as heartfelt and somber as the moments with Emmylou are, Lucinda Williams' rollicking turn on "There's a Story in Your Voice" plays to the raucous opposite side of the yard.
If you are waiting for that one brilliantly catchy number (something that "North" seriously lacked), there is "Monkey To Man," a sing-along hook about class warfare. It is the most "Elvis-like" song here, and what kept me coming back to "The Delivery Man." Frankly, this is a hard album to like as you listen to it over the first few days. But not after the first week. The extremely raw and scruffy production may put you off at first, but just stay with it. "The Delivery Man" will, eventually, deliver the goods.
Restlessness seems to be Elvis Costello's style of late. He swings from one extreme (the traditional song cycle of "North")to the other ( "Il Sogno" his contemporary classical release that came out the same time as this conducted by San Francisco's Michael Tilson Thomas). I have to be honest, when I firt put this on I wasn't all that thrilled. On the second listen the album's quality and style captured me. Personally, I'd have it no other way. That's the same restlessness that drove EC to create "Armed Forces" and a couple of years later "Imperial Bedroom". That's range. Once again, EC ponies up and creates a near masterpiece. Sure, "The Delivery Man" isn't "Armed Forces", "Imperial Bedroom" or even "King of America" but its pretty darned close to all three in terms of the quality of the songwriting, performances and production. Embracing the rootsy elements that hang at the core of rock 'n' roll and country music, the original Napoleon Dynamite creates music that could be kissing cousins to Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle.
Lucinda Williams does appear on the album. She duets with Costello on the gut wretching "There's a Story in Your Voice". Emmylou Harris makes a cameo appearence on one track and does full blown duets on two others. The best of these the brief, touching "The Scarlet Tide" was written for "Cold Mountain". It's just the two of them performing an intimate, powerful song. Her other two appearences are equally note worthy although "The Scarlet Tide" closes the album with such grace that it's hard to beat.
The Imposters hold it all together while EC performs up a storm. Pete Thomas does his best time keeping suggesting that Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr are no longer the greatest rock'n'roll drummers. Davey Faragher who has performed with John Hiatt sits in on bass and does a stellar job although I still miss Bruce Thomas a bit. Finally, Maurice Worm himself returns to the piano/organ stool. Steve Nieve does his usual stellar job.
A fine return to form after the mixed blessing of "North", "The Delivery Man" finds Elvis' restless heart wandering all over the American musical landscape yet again. He's all the better for it and so are we.
on September 21, 2004
If you enjoy Elvis Costello at all, you'll love this album. I was at the rehearsal sessions in Oxford, MS and all I could tell from them was that it was going to be an absolutely brilliant album because I couldn't stop smiling in amazement, song after new song. The writing is very strong as impressions were made immediately after one listen.
Now that it's here and I've listened to it over five times, I was not let down at all! It's absolutely terrific and keeps with the whole feel from those sessions. The sound is nothing like I've ever heard on an album of his. Elvis and the Imposters sound like they're playing in your living room, Dennis Herring has done a fabulous job with Elvis and the Imposters.
The duets with Emmylou Harris are amazingly beautiful. The songs have wonderful melodies and all fight to become your favorite. Right now I love all of them each for different reasons. I'm partial to "Nothing Clings Like Ivy" and "Bedlam" as well as a favorite from the Oxford show "There's a Story In Your Voice" with Lucinda Williams. I purchased the vinyl edition to get the extra tracks, which is worth it if you can find it, but don't let that stop you from buying this CD or going and getting the UK version for "She's Pulling Out The Pin". It's just an amazing album and I expect it to do really well. When they tour the album in the United States look out for sold out show after sold out show! Until then hear this wonderful album inspired by country, blues, and the South. All the songs are really wonderfully written and they range from rollicking fun songs to heart wrenching country ballads.
on September 22, 2004
In terms of form, is Costello the most gifted songwriter in the world of pop? Maybe so, maybe not. But I would argue that he is one of the most interesting.
Pop songs often stick to a ||verse|chorus||verse|chorus||bridge||verse|chorus|| form, especially if the composer wants some airplay. Notice the repetition.
Costello's songs often skip the second "verse-chorus." We then hear three "new" sections in a row: |verse|chorus|bridge|verse|chorus...etc. Much of This Year's Model, Armed Forces, and Get Happy falls into this category; think "Radio, Radio," where the "I wanna bite the hand that feeds me..." section comes right after the chorus instead of "Some of my friends..." Yes, it shortens songs from four to 3 minutes and limits what the composer can say in the lyrics, but has Costello ever seemed short on words? This abbreviated formal design reduces gratuitous repetition. Surprisingly, few songwriters have picked up on this simple, effective approach.
On Delivery Man, only the form of "Monkey to Man" strikes me as uninspired, and perhaps that is why it is my least favorite on the album - and the only one receiving airplay. More intriguing is the formal ingenuity of "Country Darkness" and the odd phrase lengths of "The Delivery Man," which nods towards the rhythmic quirks of some traditional folk music. "The Judgement" could have easily droned on, but Costello's sense of form makes it interesting even after multiple hearings. "Button My Lip" is repetitive, yes, but in the best sense: grooves should repeat.
I do not have to comment on the instrumental and vocal performances. These are top-notch musicians in their prime. Anyone who has a problem with the way these people play has an ax to grind. The three Attractions have matured and improved, and Davey Farragher is solid. When I heard this was to be an Imposters album, I was curious how Farragher would fit in with the three Attractions. So far, I cannot get enough of the loping bass line of "Button My Lip." A bizarre choice to open with, it makes perfect sense in the context of the song cycle. Still, it reminds me of "Uncomplicated," a song I disliked at first but grew to love within the context of Blood and Chocolate.
Because he is so prolific, I am inclined to believe that such artistry comes easily to Costello. If you add up the number of songs he has composed and recorded since 1977, there are few "stinkers." Not an easy feat. Who else can you say that about? On Delivery Man (many will undoubtedly refer to this album as a "roots" record), Costello's harmonic sense remains innovative, firmly grounded within the mature sonic palette heard on "All This Useless Beauty," "When I Was Cruel," and even "North." This is especially evident on the ballads.
There are too many songs to talk about all of them, and this review is already long-winded enough. Another shimmering, multi-faceted classic. How an album like this would not win a Grammy for Best Album is beyond me.
Tearing off the cellophane, I couldn't help noting that big, fat FBI anti-piracy warning stamped on there. Enough to make every audio pirate tremble in their boots. But loved the fine print above it: "This Artist Does Not Endorse The Following Warning. The FBI doesn't have his home phone number & he hopes they don't have yours".
But the question is, does he "deliver" on this? Yes & no. I have to say this one's pretty much all over the map. Not to scare you, but this is a "concept" album. You know, like the Juliet Letters was. A guilt ridden narrative is loosely drawn around such names as Abel, Ivy, Vivian & Geraldine. Yeah, I rolled my eyes too.
Overall, there's an infectious devil may care playfulness at work here. But also a lack of focus. And where Needle Time and Monkey To A Man work well, the more sprawling Button My Lip and Bedlam don't have me reaching for the replay button. And there are a few things I could live without. His version of The Judgement for one. Let's just say, regardless of balls, the man will never be Solomon Burke. He may be going for catharsis but perhaps a more understated vocal approach wouldn't have left me cringing. His raucous duet with Lucinda Williams is meant to be a raucous nod to George Jones and Tammy Wynette but is pretty much just grating. Scarlet Tide might just be EC's ukulele debut and while impressed with his chops, wish it were a more memorable song.
Such is not the case with Heart Shaped Bruise. In fact, all both duets with Emmylou Harris are highlights. But this one might just be is enough to make Gram Parsons crawl out of his grave and snatch the mic out of Elvis' hand. A great song. The best thing on the album if you ask me. Another standout is Country Darkness.
A lot of fans are commenting on how this is Elvis' most "Country" album since King of America. He's always had a creative obsession with Americana. But both albums couldn't be any more different. King of America had a savvy sense of artifice and was thoroughly striped down, self mocking and undeniably British. This is more of a British tourist down south taking snapshots through bedroom windows. Where King was stripped down and ironic, Delivery is more contrived and overwrought.
on September 22, 2004
THE DELIVERY MAN's got such a raucous, unpolished feel, it sounds almost like demos... until "Monkey To Man". Damn. "Monkey To Man" is so freakin' great, it seems to stand apart from the album. This is the kind of single "Tear Off Your Own Head" was trying to be on WHEN I WAS CRUEL, but didn't quite make it. (Maybe Elvis realizes this, and fashioned this as a sort of rewrite, because the riff in "Monkey To Man" sounds almost precisely like the one in "Tear Off...")
There are two songs which Elvis wrote for other people but which he is finally recording himself -- "The Judgement," which Solomon Burke did brilliantly on his CD, DON'T GIVE UP ON ME (Elvis's version is not quite as good, but not off by much), and "Scarlet Tide," which was the song nominated for the Oscar from COLD MOUNTAIN, and which is done in duet with Emmylou Harris here. It's really good, and in addition to answering the question "What would that song have sounded like if Elvis sung it?," it strips away the lusher arrangement from the film down to a simple ukelele accompaniment that's just great.
"Bedlam" and "The Name of This Thing Is Not Love" are instantly included among my all-time favorite EC songs.
On a sidenote, this album continues Elvis's new tradition of obscure bonus tracks, by featuring "The Monkey" (a cover of the Dave Bartholomew song that inspired "Monkey To Man") and "She's Pulling Out the Pin" only on the Japanese import or US vinyl version. I bought the CD and the vinyl, and I don't feel ripped off. While the exclusion of these tracks from the CD does nothing to damage it, they're worth seeking out if you can spare the effort and money.
on September 22, 2004
Really, a genius at the top of his form. As much as I love Costello, I haven't loved an entire album of his in a long time. Start to finish, this one is great. If I started to describe this work, it might diminish your discovery. Enjoy.
on September 28, 2004
There was a definite stylistic choice in this album's production -- it was recorded quickly, with instruments bleeding across microphones. The result is a very muddy, very raw sound. EC's voice is also very raw, even for him, and sometimes he is clearly out of his comfortable singing range.
EC has always been experimenting with different sounds and influences throughout his career, and that has only increased in recent years. This album is no exception -- he is pulling in a lot of Southern Gothic America influences, and even some guest singers of note (Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris) -- but it is also a bit of a throwback to his more traditional and popular rock albums. It is much more approachable to the casual fan than "North", "Il Songo" or "Painted From Memory".
Many of the songs are very good: "Country Darkness", "There's A Story In Your Voice", "The Delivery Man" and "Monkey to Man" leap to mind, but none of them are truly outstanding.
I've been listening to it while I work for about a week now. It's quite good, but if I listen to "King Of America" or "Blood & Chocolate", it's also quite obvious that he is straining to do here what he did effortlessly there.