ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS, "Get Happy!!!" (Rhino Records).****
ELVIS COSTELLO, "North" (Universal Classics).***
ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS, "Punch the Clock" (Rhino Records).***
As a songwriter, Elvis Costello has always enjoyed accolades from critics, scholars and music fans. It hasn't always been the same for him as a performer, however in particular, as a vocalist.
In fact, the erstwhile Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus has received quite a bit of criticism for his singing particularly for the disastrous "Almost Blue," an album of country covers done as a tribute to his pub singer father.
In the later stages of his career, however, he's started to convince the nay-sayers. "Painted from Memory," a 1998 album that teamed him with composer Burt Bacharach, even won him his first Grammy (Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals).
"NORTH," WHICH IS Costello's latest, may disappoint a few fans expecting something more akin to his previous effort, the crackling "When I Was Cruel."
"North" is a bit stuffy, and though it's tasteful at times, it's also a bit tuneless. And it may remind some listeners of his rather flat-footed collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet, "The Juliet Letters," because at least a couple of songs read better than they sound.
The 11 songs here seem to be an excuse for Costello to exorcise some ghosts, namely those lingering from his ill-fated marriage to former Pogues bass guitarist Cait O'Riordan. Still, "You Left Me in the Dark" and "Someone Took the Words Away" aren't the bitter send-offs you might expect from the acid-tongued tunesmith.
Other songs address his burgeoning relationship with jazz singer Diana Krall. "Let Me Tell You About Her" is surprisingly sweet, while the album's first single, the melodically subdued "Still," may be the strongest track of the disc.
THE LATEST RHINO re-releases (part of a continuing series of Costello re-issues) also call attention to him as a singer. Of the three, 1980's "Get Happy!!!" is the most loose-limbed. And it's probably the most fun album in his entire catalogue. On 20 bouncy tracks, Costello pays tribute to R&B music (including a memorably upbeat cover of Sam & Dave's "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down").
"Trust" followed on the heels of "Imperial Bedroom," and finds Costello uneasily coming to terms with both his torch-singer side and his continuing efforts to be a pop songster. Still, there are several terrific songs, including "Clubland" and "Big Sister's Clothes."
The same can be said of the more uneven "Punch the Clock," which marked the beginning of his middle period with baroque experimentation, a phase that climaxed with the ghastly "Mighty Like a Rose."
E-MAIL: [email protected]