The Boy Named If – Playing to his strengths
The Boy Named So
Elvis Costello and the impostors
Always changing direction, you might think that 67-year-old Elvis Costello has had a career spanning over 40 years of deliberately blinding his fans into taking the indulgent path of doing whatever he really wants. The truth, however, is more prosaic, as he has rarely, if ever, ventured into new territory without knowing what he expects, what he thinks he can offer and what the results might look like. His choices haven’t always hit the mark, but his relentless modus operandi has always been to ask himself, “Why not?” instead of “Why?” and it is this insistent questioning that has underpinned his status as one of rock music’s most enduring figures. With The Boy Named If, Costello has once again turned the tide by cleverly turning back the clock with songs that artfully reference (but don’t replicate) his 1977-80 output.
In the punk/post-punk era, Costello was the guy who released catchy songs with lyrics that tripped over themselves. He quickly overtook his contemporaries, who had either painted themselves into a corner from which they could not escape, or were arrested and locked up by the style police. Costello, however, moved from this to that (country, soul, Americana) and the rest (classical, operatic, orchestral, funk, bluegrass, jazz and more), while maintaining the kind of creative balance he was. hard not to be impressed by. The man’s voice remains an acquired taste, and he can be as prickly as a roll of barbed wire at times, but his persistent nature has proven him to be, just about, the most explorer of promoting. 1977.
Stylistically, The Boy Called If takes a recent revamp from his 1978 album, This Year’s Model (as Spanish Model, each song of which features guest Hispanic singers). Clearly in the mood for more of the same, he’s rounded up his longtime musical partners Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas (both, of course, former members of Costello’s band of ace The Attractions) and Davey Faragher , and opened a few bottles of enriched Prosecco. The results fizz and rumble a lot of time.
The goal is admirably high for the presentation of this album (there’s an accompanying booklet of song intros, narrative sequences, artwork), but for many the main idea is a bunch of songs that , on the whole, kindling rapidly and smoldering gracefully. Costello will deliver something different soon enough, no doubt, but The Boy Named If sees him on terrifyingly familiar ground, feet apart, fists raised, picking up the conversation. Suggestion? Inflate it.