Sunday, May 26, 2024

Forty Years After “This Year’s Model,” Elvis Costello Proves He Is a Man for All Seasons with “Look Now”


I can’t keep myself from plunging back into Elvis Costello’s “Look Now,” picking out favorite tracks and trying the ones that didn’t immediately hit me.

Forty years after his second, “This Year’s Model,” Elvis proves he’s a man for all seasons. Who would expect an album as good as “Look Now” in 2018 after our four decades together?

Elvis was always obsessed with Burt Bacharach. Even when he was trying out “Pump it Up” or “I’m Not Angry,” early fans will recall he was singing “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” as encores. The Bacharach-David Dionne Warwick hit turned up on his early bootlegs and was on many of my mix tapes. Elvis strove for dreamy melodies– his own biggest song was “Alison.”

Mid way through his career, he teamed up with Bacharach for the album “Painted from Memory,” which still stands as a highlight of his amazing canon. So why not return for inspiration to the land of “Promises, Promises,” combining with the Imposters (the Attractions minus one). The plus side is that Bacharach, at 90, plays piano on two of the tracks. You can’t do better than that.

So “Look Now” takes the best of the pre-“Painted” Elvis sound and warmly mixes it with the jazzy cocktail Burt. Shake, stir, however you please, this cocktail has a kick. The songs are largely from characters’ voices, with a swerve and punch that makes them memorable. You will find yourself humming couplets from “Why Won’t Heaven Help Me?” and “Stripping Paper” while rock head banging to “Under Lime” and “Unwanted Number.” You can’t help yourself. “Suspect My Tears” is a Philly soul gem. Dig that falsetto!

There are also a couple of ballads– “Don’t Look Now” and “Photographs Can Lie”– that summon Elvis’s best singing. I’ve been a fan of “You Shouldn’t Look at me That Way” since it appeared last year in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.” Also, “The Final Mrs. Curtain,” from the run-over CD, finds Elvis at his linguistic best. You want to rock? “Mr. and Mrs. Hush” brought me all the way back to the days of “Trust” and “Clubland.” Get up and dance.

Listen to this album on a stereo– you can find one– and turn it up. And thank goodness for Elvis Costello, who’s remained a nimble musical genius for more time than we deserved.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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