My relationship with Elvis Costello’s music is probably not that unique to a lot of rock stars of his generation and their fans. Because I would easily put Elvis up as one of my favorite artists ever. His music meant a lot to me during high school, seeing as I was this awkward geeky kid who thought he was smarter than everybody, but was deathly afraid of revealing this fact. So it blew my mind to discover this guy who made geekiness punk rock, all while sharpening his lyrical wit like a finely serrated knife, ready to pierce through every note he sang in his signature snarl.
And yet… prior to checking out his latest album Look Now, I hadn’t listened to a single album of Costello’s from the past 30 years. This could be due to the fact that Costello has remained incredibly prolific in the latter half of his career, which has made his recent output feel like one big unfamiliar blob. Meanwhile, his first initial run of albums from the late ’70s to mid-’80s produced so much great material that I’ve always been content to just return to those albums instead of seeking out his ’90s or ’00s fare.
But Look Now seemed to beckon to me more than any of Costello’s late-career albums for a number of reasons. For one, Costello had a brief cancer scare earlier this year, which has ascended him to the front of “we better appreciate him while he’s here” rock stars. Then there’s the fact that Look Now has received better reviews than any of Costello’s albums in years, all while being backed by the familiar presence of The Imposters (a Bruce Thomes-less incarnation of Elvis’s longtime backing band The Attractions).
So as someone who hasn’t listened to Costello’s work since the ’80s, the record Look Now most reminds me of is 1982’s Imperial Bedroom. Meaning, we have the more “mature” version of Costello in full swing, embracing a sophisticated kind of pop songwriting, but still with that biting wit intact. I’m sure this album also bears some resemblance to Painted from Memory, the album Costello did with Burt Bacharach, since there are a few songs co-written with Bacharach here. But considering that album came out in 1998, you could probably guess how much time I’ve spent listening to it.
One thing that’s particularly striking about the lyrics on Look Now is that the majority of the songs here are written from the perspective of women. Granted, that’s not that surprising, considering Costello’s songs where always about 5 times more nuanced than the average rocker’s perspective on the kind of allure women have. But it all adds up to a record that feels very adult and nuanced, and yet also has that signature Costello bite lurking beneath a seemingly rosy veneer.