ELVIS COSTELLO & THE IMPOSTERS
The Boy Named If (Capitol/Universal)
Have four men in four rooms but feeling like they’re sweating in the same little box and they’re not going to be allowed out ‘til this is done. This could make for either a hot stinking mess or some high-octane beat group energy.
Elvis Costello, Davey Faragher, Pete Thomas and Steve Nieve offer the latter.
Around occasional moments of delicateness and even sonority, the quartet play with the swinging freedom that comes from knowing where you stand and not caring where you land (because everyone else is jumping with you). It’s not being played at double speed, but it comes at you at twice the usual intent.
The sharp crack of the snare in Penelope Halfpenny and The Man You Love To Hate, the Motown bassline and fairground organ (and general “peak years’ Attractions” moves) in Mistook Me For A Friend, the interplay of Townshend-slash guitar and garage punk-like Vox Continental in Magnificent Hurt, the all-in chasing of listeners up the street in Farewell, OK, the punchy psychedelic swirl of What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love?. This is sharp and clear and in-your-face – and in your feet, and, yes, even for those of us at the unsteady on the legs stage, in your hips.
And given there’s nothing extraneous here, with only extra-vocals from producer Sebastian Krys and guest Nicole Atkins added to the Imposters, you don’t miss any of the playing. Which is good because there’s has some really good business happening here, including from old Little Hands Of Concrete himself, Mr Costello.
There is no question that this is the most guitar-driven album of Costello’s career including as he gleefully points out to anyone asking, guitar solos. The album opens with a clanging bash at the strings (before Pete Thomas’ drums smack and Davey Faragher’s dancing bass swings out), it ends with a reverberating chord, and in between the Fender Jazzmaster (and apparently the “Kalamazoo guitar”) does more than cut through, taking point in the way that might usually be done by Steve Nieve’s keyboards.
Not that Nieve is sidelined (nor is everything at full pace, with the country soul Mr Crescent bringing the last dance of the night to the last track of the album). Nieve brings so much colour and melody that you regularly catch yourself startled by them, so caught up are you in the proportion around him. There’s no shortage of sly or knowing humour in the pleasure as well, such as for example the blend of Armed Forces piano and Trust organ in The Difference. While if you’re looking for filigrees, his contributions to the lightly charged ballad, Paint The Red Rose Blue, are subtle but just right.
The other oddity of this record is that Costello, not a man known for enjoying the fruits of the indulgent ‘70s loom (though his quasi-duet with the superb Atkins on My Most Beautiful Mistake feels like a tightly bound vocal arrangement from one of that decade’s emotionally fraught bands), has created a loosely thematically-linked set of songs. You wouldn’t call it a concept album exactly, but the recurring subject matter of the wonders and confusions and “unknowing” of childhood – the years of magic thinking in other words – uneasily transitioning into adulthood, give this album a through line.
There is even a continuation of the more forgiving writer and observer of humans that Costello has been this past 20 years. Yes, believe it.
Believe too that if you want a beat group who are where the action is bustling up behind some cracking tunes, The Imposters – four men, in four rooms, in three countries, for 13 songs – know how to have fun.
And if you want to know more about the story behind the making of this record, here's a two part interview with Elvis Costello.
Part 1: He's The Guitar Man: Elvis Costello Plugs In, Pumps Up