Elvis Costello & the Imposters

Record review

Phases & Stages

Elvis Costello & the Imposters

The Delivery Man

(Lost Highway)

Occasionally – often – experimentation is mistaken for innovation. Since Elvis Costello is engaging in neither on The Delivery Man, we needn't worry over the distinction. His artistry, still, is unmistakable; he writes better songs than anyone you know, cracking music's emotive-mechanical code as consistently as anyone going, and in more ways. That said, better find that artistry on his simultaneously released ballet score, Il Sogno, than on this self-derivative effort, stilted and stuffed as it is. Some will have you believe this is a story LP full of story songs about unrequited love in the small-town American South. It's not. It's a haphazard sequence of songs that sounds over- and under-produced. Aside from eight of its ecstatic early minutes, "Country Darkness," a sawdust waltz that pursues as many possibilities as its title promises, along with the subsequent "There's a Story in Your Voice," a raw, no-depression duet with Lucinda Williams, The Delivery Man eats away at itself. "Button My Lip" is an anguished, dissonant, 21st-century bass-and-piano boogie; the jarring geopolitical parables "Bedlam" and "Monkey to Man" jerk, flail, and drain like unattended fire hoses. "Needle Time" plants a dirty bomb of Bo Diddley blues that finds the singer wishing that he wouldn't "squander all my contempt for a little nothin' like you." These aren't complete failures – the Imposters/Attractions are too fine a band for that – but they are exaggerated and overreaching. Most disappointing is the trio of cloying duets with Emmylou Harris – one is called "Heart Shaped Bruise," another "Nothing Clings Like Ivy," just to give you an idea – while the limping title track includes the line "in a certain light, he looked like Elvis; in a certain way, he feels like Jesus." Ultimately, in no uncertain terms, this Elvis sounds like an impersonator. (Elvis Costello headlines the ACL Music Festival Sunday at Zilker Park, 4:30pm.)

**

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