I realized I wasn’t a kid anymore when somewhere around the middle of my fourth decade, all the records I’d heard at my parents’ house throughout my childhood suddenly began to make sense to me. Henry Mancini’s soundtrack to “The Pink Panther,” a record I’d heard countless times as a kid, now was the record I couldn’t get enough of. The funny thing is I also realized that many contemporary musicians were becoming quite enamoured with the past, and a number of former rockers were crooning in jazz, big band and showtune-esque styles. Elvis Costello has obviously heard the siren song, and with his last several records has moved toward reinventing himself not only as a big band crooner, but a classical composer as well.
I can’t say that I’m particularly enthralled with either of his new career choices. I greatly admired his late-seventies to mid-eighties new-wave-oriented output, and felt that his clever songwriting and often reggae-tinged arrangements successfully captured the angst of that generation, and he captivated the record-buying public’s attention. His raspy delivery of his many hits was seen as a plus to fans of music that celebrated rebellion against the accepted conventions of mainstream music styles. While his more hardcore fans may revel in his signature vocal delivery in his newest incarnation, unfortunately, I just don’t think it works well with the music. The Metropole Orkest is superb, make no doubt – they really swing throughout the disc’s fourteen selections. From a musical standpoint, this disc is a real knockout – until Elvis opens his mouth. A case in point is the song Almost Blue -– superbly rendered by Diana Krall (missus Elvis Costello) on her latest album, and her deep understanding of the jazz idiom is omnipresent in her delivery of the song. Elvis’s version is a shadowy reflection, mostly undermined by the shortcomings of his vocal presentation.
When Elvis tries to reinvent an older, more classic “Elvis” tune, Watching The Detectives, the Metropole Orkest opens the tune with a campy, film noiresque vamp that really swings – until Elvis delivers the song very much as he did in its original, more reggae-oriented version. It just doesn’t work, and regardless of how much I enjoyed the music, every time Elvis opened his mouth, I found myself totally distracted.
His Il Sogno Suite fares somewhat better, although the many selections are little more than vignettes, only two minutes or less in length and only offer a glimpse of the music. The music varies in context throughout, with many of the selections having a jazzy feel to them that works very well. I can’t honestly say, though, that I found the music to be either riveting or totally captivating – it’s obviously not the work of a seasoned classical composer. A mixed bag overall – unless you’re a huge Elvis Costello fan, I’d pass on this one.
Tracks: Hora Decubitus; Favorite Hour; That’s How You Got Killed Before; Upon A Veil of Midnight Blue; Clubland; Almost Blue; Speak Darkly, My Angel; Almost Ideal Eyes; Can You Be True; Put Away Forbidden Playthings; Episode of Blonde; My Flame Burns Blue (Blood Count); Watching the Detectives; God Give Me Strength.
— Tom Gibbs