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.