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.