Elvis Costello & The Imposters - A Boy Named If (2022) - Album review

By Sergio Ariza

Claiming the New Wave crown 

Before he became a marvellous pop craftsman, someone capable of rubbing shoulders with Burt Bacharach and Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello was the king of what was known as ‘New Wave’, fronting his Attractions - and with The Boy Named If he reclaims the title by sounding more energetic and aggressive than anything since Trust. But perhaps more important than the adrenaline rush is that the melodies that accompany these songs rival those from his heyday.


Perhaps the reason for this trip back in time is understandable when you consider that Costello's previous release, Spanish Model, was a reworking of his 1978 classic This Year's Model - with Latin artists providing Spanish vocals on his original tracks. It seems that being exposed to his golden age has put Costello back in gear for his 32nd album, his fourth with the Imposters, basically the Attractions, Steve Nieve on keyboards and Pete Thomas on drums, with Cracker's Davey Faragher filling in for a Bruce Thomas who still hasn't made peace with his former boss.

The album opens with the explosive Farewell, Ok, which is a kind of Merseybeat mixed with punk energy, played by a razor-sharp band. It sounds so much like his early days that I wouldn't be surprised if he dusted off his legendary Jazzmaster from the cover of My Aim Is True. On the title track we get one of those playful melodies amidst Steve Nieve's wonderful piano arrangements that take you headlong into Armed Forces, while Penelope Halfpenny sounds like a forgotten B-side from those glorious early Attractions singles. On the other hand, the melody on The Difference is so rounded it sounds as if Costello has collaborated with McCartney again.


The Jazzmaster returns for the riff, and one of the few solos on the album, on What If I Can't Give You Anything But Love, whose muscular soul harks back to the days of Get Happy. The pace of the album slows with the appearance of one of the album's advance singles, the ballad Paint The Red Rose Blue, in which Costello returns to his beloved Burt Bacharach. It is a necessary respite from an, up to that point, incredibly up-tempo start.

With the batteries charged, the energy, and the badassery, return with Mistook Me For A Friend, again with a great organ contribution from the fundamental Nieve. My Most Beautiful Mistake features a sublime melody and a wonderful chorus, with the help of Nicole Atkins' vocals. Magnificent Hurt, which was the album's first single release, has a cutting rhythm and sees Costello on top form, recalls his most famous album, This Year's Model, and makes you want to shout "pump it up, Elvis!"


On The Man You Love To Hate there are slight Jamaican influences, while on The Death Of Magic Thinking the Imposters turn up the revs again with a touch of
Bo Diddley beat on the drums. But by the end of the album, Elvis takes off his crown, the Imposters slow down and the crooner of late returns. Trick Out The Truth is one of the few tracks that departs from the New Wave vibe of the rest of the album, and sees Costello mixing two of the genres he has been most attracted to, jazz and country. The finale with Mr Crescent is also a midtempo track, but with a beautiful melody that glances back to the 50s and brings the album to a close with Costello coming to terms with his current age.

For those familiar with his seminal work with the Attractions this album will be seen as a welcome look at what he has always been best at: intelligent and angry lyrics, bubbling melodies and an unstoppable band; for those who aren't, what the hell are you waiting for to get your hands on his first four albums?   


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