Album Review – Elvis Costello – The Boy Named If

Elvis Costello is, quite simply, one of the greatest songwriters (and rockers) ever. From his debut, My Aim is True in 1977 (still sounds great) till today, 32 albums in, his catalog is second to none in the rock genre. However, when I heard he was dropping a new album I didn’t break out the hats and hooters. That is true in part because many of his generation have either run out of gas, gone ‘Sting mellow’, or just rehash their hits.

In EC’s case, we had gone to see him in Boston in the Before Times of 2018. When I wrote about it here, I said, that the band was great but for my money, there were far too many ballads. And until I started this review, I completely forgot I posted about his last album Hey Clockface

The Boy Named If was released, wow, just two weeks ago. (Most of the albums I review were released sometime before the invention of the telephone.) Costello wrote in a press release, “The full title of this record is ‘The Boy Named If (And Other Children’s Stories).’ ‘IF,’ is a nickname for your imaginary friend; your secret self, the one who knows everything you deny, the one you blame for the shattered crockery and the hearts you break, even your own. You can hear more about this ‘Boy’ in a song of the same name.”

Sure, ok, whatever. The thing you wanna know, assuming you’re made it this far is Which Elvis Costello shows up? Elvis the angry young man or Elvis the crooner? And based on what I’ve heard, neither. Elvis is neither angry nor young but with his great band The Impostors, this thing rocks out pretty hard.

As I said to fellow blogger Christian in his review, “I may have to change my mind about not reviewing this. This is some classic shit and there is not enough good rock ‘n roll. This album sounds like it could have been made in 1977!” (Yes. I was young and full of life back then and now I sit on my couch all day and wonder, Where Did it All Go Wrong? But I digress.)

Here’s the kickoff tune, “Farewell, OK.” This is the way to blast an album off into space.

The Impostors include the great Pete Thomas on drums and the equally great Steve Nieve on keyboards. Missing from the band is Bruce Thomas (no relation to Pete) on bass. Being the inquisitive sort, I wondered what happened there.

According to Wikipedia, “In 1990, Thomas released his first book The Big Wheel, a memoir in which the key characters are recognizable without ever being identified by name. Costello, for instance, is called “the singer.” (Ouch!) Apparently annoyed by his depiction in the book, Costello responded with the song “How To Be Dumb.”

He accused Thomas of sabotaging his songs onstage and Thomas says “no reformation is ever going to come about under my initiative – or under any other circumstances I can foresee.” I read EC’s 2015 autobiography Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink and interestingly he has not one bad word to say about Thomas. (And equally interestingly, never refers to Bonnie Bramlett by name. Bonnie famously slapped him across the face for calling Ray Charles the ‘n-word’ in a drunken rant.)

Here’s “What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” whose drum intro sounds (intentionally?) reminiscent of “Watching the Detectives” and even has some brief, twisted guitar solos by Mr. McManus. “I don’t often take solos,” Elvis tells Vulture. “There’s two on this record, which is actually two more than almost every other record I’ve made. Certainly, I haven’t played a solo in 20 years on a record.”

I think the main reason I wanted to write about this album is not only because it is excellent but because some people are always bitching, whining really, that there isn’t enough good rock around these days. That, of course, would be me. And so when a great rock album comes along, it’s my somber obligation from the Music Blogger’s Code (Paragraph 3, Subsection 4.2) to “write about albums that in one way or the other, kick some booty.”

I won’t belabor this. By now you either like what you hear or you don’t. If you do, great. If not, please sit in a corner for a few hours like Bart Simpson and write on the blackboard, “I’m not a rocker, baby I’m not rocker.” (Apologies of course to EC’s old chum, Mr. The Boss.)

Here’s “Mistook Me For a Friend.”

The deluxe edition comes with some sort of a collection of stories I won’t be reading.


18 thoughts on “Album Review – Elvis Costello – The Boy Named If

  1. I am happy to hear this, I sort of wrote it off and figured I’d get to it when I could…but maybe I’ll give it a spin sooner than later. Thanks


      1. Well, I’ll stream it that I way I’m not out any money other than my monthly fee which I will more than make-up for listening to other stuff anyway.


  2. Although the album has a few quieter moments, I’m particularly surprising by the punch of the rocking songs. Costello seems to have rekindled the passion for his work.


  3. My only complaint with EC is that he’s so proficient. His level of putting out consistent quality material is admirable. I try to keep up but am behind with lots of his material. When I do ketchup I know good stuff will be waiting for me. Never disappointed. He hits on so many musical notes for me. He is so full of music. Saying all that, he is a rocker at his core. I will give this some solid time. Over the years he has always mixed in his rock side (‘!3 Steps’ comes to mind) but nice to hear he is giving more time to that side of his creativity. Turn it up Costello!


    1. Yeah, he is a prolific guy like Springsteen. But i don’t follow either one of them that closely these days. But if they come out with something tasty, I’m all over it. CB should take this one for a stroll.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. No worries, Jim, I don’t know how to read! 🙂

          I think it’s going to be something where you may have a similar initial reaction like you did for EC but probably end up liking it as well!


  4. Everyone’s praising this one – feels like I should hear it. It just means my Elvis Costello page will have a thirty three year gap from Spike to this one….


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