Elvis Costello & The Imposters – A Boy Named If (Capitol)

Elvis Costello & The Imposters pump it up on this, the be-speckled-one’s 32nd studio album.

In 1977 Elvis’ aim was true and now, 45 years later, he’s still on the mark as he and his Imposters (The Attractions with Davey Faragher replacing Bruce Thomas on bass) mine their own golden legacy with this new album.

Elvis CostelloMind you, Elvis, like many his age (67) has been keenly aware of his own musical legacy of late. Last year’s Spanish Model was a “reimagining” of 1978’s This Year’s Model.  And, to be honest there are times during A Boy Named If when tunes like Pump It Up and Lip Service come to mind.

And while I admire Costello’s willingness to expand and experiment with his musical palette, I do love this early-era that Elvis seems to be channeling here.

The album virtually explodes with Farwell, OK, a thinly-disguised re-write of Larry WilliamsDizzy Miss Lizzy…complete with swirling organ and shotgun drumming. While the music may not be the most original, the lyrics are pure Elvis, even getting in a Velvet Elvis reference for good measure.

Costello, who had a cancer scare a few years back, sounds in great voice. This is the raspy, rocking Elvis I prefer to his later attempts to croon.

Next up is the title track. And what, or who, is A Boy Named If? According to Elvis its, “the last days of a bewildered boyhood to that mortifying moment when you are told to stop acting like a child – which for most men (and perhaps a few gals, too) can be any time in the next 50 years.” the “IF” standing for “invisible friend”.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t make much sense…the music carries the song.

And now you can add Penelope to Alison and Veronica  to the list of Elvis’ gals in songs. This Penelope is Penelope Halfpenny  and the sound is classic Costello. She should be around for a few years.

One old song that is recently been expurgated is Oliver’s Army. Fortunately a new tune, The Difference, is here to replace it, also featuring the same ABBA-inspired piano run that drove Oliver.

As good as the opening salvo of songs are here, it is the middle of the album that holds the meat thanks to the searing What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love…which, coming from Elvis, sounds like a threat.

Paint The Red Rose Blue is a ballad…lovely and sincere…not an ironic lyric to be found anywhere…which is something the younger Elvis would have struggled with.

Then there’s the wordy rocker Mistook Me For A Friend before we land on My Most Beautiful Mistake. The opening line is classic Elvis: “She was a part-time waitress with a dream of greatness.”  This is Elvis at his best and Nicole Atkins joins in on harmonies making it that much better. He even sneaks in a reference to The MarvelettesHunter Gets Captured By The Game.

Magnificent Hurt picks up the intensity and then The Man You Love To Hate and The Death Of Magic Thinking take us out amidst pummeling drums that sound like they were lifted from Stranded In The Jungle.

If the album ended there, it would be close to perfect.

But two more tracks, Trick Out The Truth and Mr. Crescent cause Elvis and Co to overstay their welcome. Neither tune is bad, just unnecessary in this context. In another time and place they would be cherished B-sides.

No matter, A Boy Named If is my favourite Elvis Costello to emerge in quite a while. EC is always good, but here he’s great.

Marty Duda