Elvis Costello & The Imposters

Lost Highway, 2008

REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove


Momofuku, a reference to the inventor of instant noodles, was recorded in nine days earlier this year. Essentially, it is a crash course in Costello. The /singer/songwriter/guitarist has dedicated entire albums to country (Almost Blue) and soul/R&B (Get Happy!!) and delivered rock in its most vitriolic form (“Radio, Radio”). He’s not getting any younger, and he is a collaborator. You get all of that in Momofuku.

Costello fires at contemporary culture in “No Hiding Place” to begin the album. I particularly enjoy his distaste for those who shoot off their mouths but expect something better in return: “Next time someone wants to hurt you / Or set alight your effigy / Don’t call on me to help you out / Don’t come crying to me for sympathy.” Costello’s an older guy, but he’s up to date on whom to hang. “No Hiding Place” also has nice country bits peeking out of the track’s driving rock foundation, with Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis doing great backing vocals.

Next up is “American Gangster Time,” in which Costello’s vocal is the definition of sneering. Steve Nieve’s organ playing perfectly accentuates Costello’s mocking words -- just like it did throughout This Year’s Model in 1978. Indeed, the track is a classic Costello foursome; the only person missing is bassist Bruce Thomas, who played with Costello for many years as one of the Attractions. But Dave Faragher, an Imposter since 2001, is an adequate replacement.

The next three tracks are a step away from the ferocious first pair but are certainly listenable. “Turpentine” is noisy (like 2002’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 When I Was Cruel) and very rhythmic (courtesy of Imposter drummer Pete Thomas and his daughter, Tennessee). The song improves with repeated listening, but it should have been shorter than five-and-a-half minutes. “Harry Worth” is incredibly reminiscent of “The Long Honeymoon” from 1982’s Imperial Bedroom -- the kind of songs I cautiously label storytelling jazz because I’m not sure what the hell they are. And then there’s “Drum & Bone,” notable for its endless wordplay and Costello’s acoustic strumming.

But “Flutter & Wow” is the real attention-getter. Along with “No Hiding Place” and “American Gangster Time,” it qualifies as a highlight of the album’s first half. And it is possibly the most soulful song of Costello’s career: “I can’t believe that this is happening / You make the motor in me flutter and wow.” His vocal performance is impeccable. In fact, the emotion is almost too salient, and I can’t say that for many songs outside of the Roy Orbison variety.

“Flutter & Wow” towers over the next few tracks, which amount to fuzzbox rock (“Stella Hurt”), an obvious British Invasion ploy (“Mr. Feathers”), and fatherly musings (“My Three Sons”). I don’t really see a point to “Mr. Feathers” when you can go to The Kinks, but “Stella Hurt” and “My Three Sons” are decent songs following an emotional monster.

Which is precisely why I’m thankful for “Song With Rose,” a dark love song co-written by Roseanne Cash. Cash doesn’t show up to sing on this country track, but Lewis’s voice twists up nicely with Costello’s. The tension between the sexes continues with “Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve,” co-written by Loretta Lynn. The song suggests infidelity between Adam and Eve, and considering the story is told from Eve’s standpoint, it’s interesting that Costello is the lead vocal with no female backing vocals.

The maturity, which is somewhat synonymous with whining, is put to rest with the final track, “Go Away,” a fun R&B throwback to Get Happy!!  I could almost see Costello and Lewis and the Imposters taking speed -- OK, so that’s libelous -- in the studio and ripping through this one. Very smart of them not to end this album on a downer.

The strength of Momofuku is its accessibility. Costello fans will dig the history, and newcomers should receive a good idea of who Costello is. Not all of the tracks are great, but nothing comes close to past stinkers like “… And In Every Home” (Imperial Bedroom) and “Sunday’s Best” (Armed Forces).  

(On a grim note, download “… And In Every Home” and “Sunday’s Best” and try to enjoy them. I would like an e-mail from anyone who can.)

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2008 Jedediah Pressgrove and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Lost Highway, and is used for informational purposes only.