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Old 05-18-2009, 02:02 PM   #82 (permalink)
why bother?
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Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: UK
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By the way, if anyone else feels strongly enough about any Costello album to review it, feel free to put it in this thread. It can be a paragraph or two long, whatever - it doesn't have to be as boring and long-winded as this next one's gonna be (and the more it contradicts my opinion the better ).

The Delivery Man
2004, Lost Highway Records, Sweet Tea (Oxford, MS), Delta Recording (Clarksdale, MS), Village Recorders (LA) & Ocean Way Studios

Thankfully for all concerned, if North represented a blip in Costello's discography, it was certainly a very brief one. With his desire to croon in working men's clubs firmly behind him, Elvis Costello got the Imposters together again and went about another, considerably less-rushed studio project. The idea behind what ended up as his 21st album which he presented to Lost Highway, his new label, had been knocking about the back of his head for a good number of years beforehand. This is idea was that of a concept album about a delivery man (see what he did there?) working in the American south, with a narrative following him on his journeys and through his relationships with various women. In order to make it a bit more complicated than that, Costello made the decision to mix up the tracklisting so that that narrative wasn't in a linear form. Also, to further steer this record away from being a bona fide concept album, songs were dropped from the final running order if they seemed to reveal too much about the characters or the story.

So, in other words, the whole concept album idea was basically done away with entirely during the album's production. What we have is the first Costello album in many moons to not tread any new ground and instead serve as a retrospective look at all the many styles that he'd covered over the last 27 years of his recording career that he'd done a particularly good job with. Rock 'n' roll, soul, folk, country, bluegrass, torch music - they're all here in some form or another. On top of all that, it's one of his better albums for sure.

1. Button My Lip
Things start on a vaguely left-of-field note. On top of Pete Thomas' rolling, repetitive drumbeat, Davey Farragher's similarly hypnotic bassline and Steve Nieve's freewheeling piano, there's no obvious melody and no truly catchy hooks to grab onto when it comes to understanding the song, be that in the music or the lyrics. It's an odd little abrasive rocker, and certainly not like most of the album ahead of it, but it works well enough as an opening track. 6/10

2. Country Darkness
With it's prominent piano lines, sparse and gentle rhythm and the return of Costello's old buddy John McPhee (who he'd not worked with since 1981's Almost Blue) on the pedal steel guitar, this marks the return of country rock into his back-catalogue. With it's fascinating key changes and well-worked lyrics about 'this tattered document - a mystery you can solve - some burnt out filament - flies still buzzing around the bulb', it's clear that the guy's still got it. Great song this.

3. There's a Story In Your Voice
Featuring the vocal talents of a certain Lucinda Williams (who chips in with the odd verse here and there), she and Costello fit surprisingly well together as a vocal duet over this very catchy and upbeat song.

4. Either Side Of the Same Town
Here lies the first true highlight of the album, in the form of an absolutely gorgeous and melodic soul-flavoured tune. Considering the kind of nasal voice Costello's known for, it's surprising how well this song turned out, which probably owes no small favour to Davey Farragher's sweet backing vocal during each chorus (which is one strength I think the Imposters have over the Attractions - Farragher is a much better singer than Bruce Thomas ever was). One of the very best moments in Costello's recording career.

5. Bedlam
Using the same old skewiff rhythms, quickfire vocal delivery and disjointed blasts of guitar, this here's a kind of sister song to Button My Lip. It all works very well over the rambling lyric, being a fairly confrontational piece of music and another one of the louder moments on the album.

6. The Delivery Man
Being the title track and all, whatever concept there might have been in mind for this album at whatever point is blankly obvious here, given the mentions of the three women in the delivery man's life (one of whom, Ivy, has a song half-named after her a bit later on), all it's mentions of 'a humble delivery man' and the like, the yarn-spinning lyric is a fascinating enough piece of poetry in itself. It's done a whole load of good by the slow, reined-in music behind it too. The final refrain of 'in a certain light he looked like Elvis, in a certain way he seemed like Jesus' is an interesting little character portrait as well, and one that makes you wonder what this album's narrative would read like in its linear form.

7. Monkey To Man
As the sole single release around these parts, this is definitely one of the catchiest and most instantly-memorable moments on the album. With that wonderful 8-note riff it's another case for Elvis Costello's standing as one of the more understated rhythm guitarists out there, not to mention another case for his being a genuinely brilliant songwriter and performer. One of the more simplistic rockers on the album, and a very good song indeed for it. Gotta love that video too.

8. Nothing Clings Like Ivy
To juxtapose it nicely though is this beautiful little slow-burner, rolling by on the back of Nieve's gentle piano tones and another one of the more obviously concept-heavy lyrics. Wonderful song, and it's one of a few to feature the gorgeous tones of Emmylou Harris helping out with the harmony vocal here.

9. The Name Of This Thing Is Not Love
From the softness of the ballad before it, this one kind of leaps out of the quiet with a much more up-tempo, guitar-and-piano led arrangement to its name. As most of Costello's better works do, there's a very nice key change for the 'he thinks of her still - although you'd never guess' verse, making for another one of the higher-ranking moments on this album.

10. Heart-Shaped Bruise
Another country-flavoured tune here, and another one to feature vocal harmonies with Emmylou Harris (she gets to sing a verse too ) as well as John McPhee's pedal steel, it's a similar kind of song to Country Darkness before it, and around about the same level of quality too.

11. She's Pulling Out the Pin
Using its wurlitzer organ tones and glockenspiel to set up a strange kind of atmosphere before evolving into a more coherent rocker with each chorus, this is a fairly strange song alongside its bedfellows. It's a wonderful package of Costello at his best basically - very well-composed, written and performed song, and with a nice little piano solo as well.

12. Needle Time
It's followed though by probably the weakest song on the album. It's a basic little rocker, doesn't exactly go anywhere very interesting and isn't really one of Costello's best.

13. The Judgement
It's more than made up for by what comes next though. This terrific, soulful tune was actually given to some bloke called Solomon Burke before Costello decided to record the song for himself. It's another example of the Imposters really showing their mettle as a backing band, and doing another wonderful set of lyrics some real justice, making for another one of Costello's finest.

14. The Scarlet Tide
The album ends on a more lo-fi note with this pretty little folk ballad (again featuring a gorgeous vocal harmony with Emmylou Harris).

To conclude...
This here is definitely one of Elvis Costello's better albums. Given that it's something of a guided tour through the many sounds of his discography before it, the juxtapositions in sound do make it seem a tiny bit of a jumble. Nevertheless, this was truly one of his best albums in years which, despite the occasional dud, showed off all the strengths of Costello's songwriting talent. A razor-sharp and very relieving (given the sludge that came before it) return to form. It's not quite among his best, but I'd certainly recommend it to anyone looking to get into the guy.

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