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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