Elvis Costello & The Imposters- Look Now
If you look at the chat box to the left, you will see a comment referring to "Painted From Memory" as the last good music made by Elvis Costello. I don't agree with that sentiment at all. Since 1998, the year of that Costello/Bacharach collaboration, Elvis has released "When I Was Cruel," a terrific combination of rock and roll and trip-hop, that works 75% of the time, "The River In Reverse," a wonderful and inspired tribute to New Orleans R&B with Allen Toussaint, "The Delivery Man," a collection of alt-country tunes and R&B-inspired songs, with help from Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams, that works 75% of the time, the criminally ignored, barely released "Momofuku," which found Elvis & friends, touching on all genres, including some balls out rock and roll and Beatle-esque pop that works 75% of the time, and an interesting collaboration with The Roots, "Wise Up Ghost," that admittedly isn't for everyone, but hardly a toss-off, with inspired mash-ups and experiments- an A for effort, for sure. Both T-Bone Burnett records, "Secret, Profane..." and National Ransom" had their moments, though I despise T-Bone as a producer and really think those records suffer from bad sound. That is a whole lotta music to dismiss, and many Costello fans did just that.
In a conversation last week regarding XTC's earlier work versus their later work, one friend offered this, "Artists grow and sometimes it is difficult for fans to grow with them." Maybe that is the case with fans of Elvis Costello who simply lost interest when Elvis found new avenues to explore.
I do agree with the rest of the comment. "Look Now" is indeed, "really, really great." I have never given up on Elvis Costello and what is found on his new release, really and truly, isn't much different than what can be found on the aforementioned records.
Songs like the opener "Under Lime" or "I Let The Sun Go Down," which is featured up top, could have easily fit right before or after "American Gangster Time" or "No Hiding Place" on "Momofuku," and as a few critics and Elvis himself has said, maybe even his masterpiece, "Imperial Bedroom," which was indeed, much different than all his records up to that point in 1982. As a matter of fact, "Look Now" feels like a "greatest vibe" collection, hitting on all the old Costello haunts, most obviously on the Burt Bacharach co-writes, but throughout. Costello himself refers to the new album as "This Year's Model 2," more having to do with where he is now, as opposed to the music found on the 1978 release.
A good number of the tunes found here have been around a while. I have live versions of both "Suspect My Tears" and the Carole King co-write, "Burnt Sugar is So Bitter," dating as far back as 1999. "Unwanted Number" was written for the 1996 film, "Grace of My Heart." But, "Look Now" does not sound like a Frankenstein monster. Even the deluxe edition tracks, which are a few years old at this point, do not sound like they belong somewhere else. "Look Now" might very well be the best record Elvis Costello has released since "Painted From Memory," but that's a lot different than saying it's the only good thing he's released since "Painted From Memory." In many ways, "Look Now" feels like Paul McCartney's "Chaos & Creation In The Backyard," mature records by brilliant artists who are bold enough to move forward, but smart enough not to abandon the music and fans that got them where are they are in the first place.
Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis- Wild! Wild! Wild!
I might have let this gem slip on by if not for my friend and band member John Dunbar insisting I give it a spin. I won't pretend I've been listening to Robbie Fulks all these years, but I do know what I have heard has impressed me. Now, he has teamed up with Jerry Lee's sister, Linda Gail, and for most of the record the duo is backed by three of the Flat Five, and what unfolds on "Wild! Wild! Wild!" is 30 plus minutes of clever writing, killer hooks and inspired playing. It's a Rutles version of country music and rock and roll, without ever sounding smug or intentionally ironic. It will sound both fresh and familiar at the same time. This is a smart record and it is a blast. Some choice covers mixed with smart originals and "Wild! Wild! Wild!" is easily the most fun I have had spinning a record all year,
David Bowie-Never Let Me Down (2018)
1987's "Never Let Me Down" was the nadir of David Bowie's musical career. Even this Bowie diehard could not forgive having Mickey Rourke as a guest vocalist. But it wasn't just Mickey. The production on "Never Let Me Down" was so of its time, I have Rudy Vallee albums that sound less-dated. And truth be told, most of the songs were absolute lemons.
If you don't know the story by now, Bowie hated the record. Not the songs so much, but what was done to them. He mentioned this to producer Mario McNulty, and together they remixed "Time Will Crawl" for the 2008 compilation "iSelect Bowie." Bowie had expressed a desire to do the whole record over and gave McNulty his blessing before he died. That final product is now a part of the just released monster boxed set, "Loving The Alien," 15 LPs covering Bowie's biggest, as well as his weakest recordings, spanning the years 1983-1988.
I really only want to draw attention to McNulty's remix because it is worth mentioning. The producer basically stripped away everything but Bowie's original vocals, brought in Bowie alumni Reeves Gabrels, David Torn and Sterling Campbell, and pumped new life into arguably Bowie's worst record. And man, it really works. I won't pretend "Never Let Me Down" has suddenly become "Ziggy Stardust" or "Low," but it has become more than just an interesting experiment. This is no longer a keyboard record, with programmed synths and drums. "Never Let Me Down" is now a true band record, and in many ways, at least to my ears, plays more like what Bowie was doing on his return to recording, "The Next Day." The aforementioned "Time Will Crawl" is a winner, as are the newly reworked versions of the title track, "Zeroes" and the Iggy cover, "Bang Bang" right above, which is now half-time, and feeling more like "Moonage Daydream" than an MTV club hit.
I know this is a hard sell, but find the 2018 version of "Never Let Me Down" on your favorite site to stream and give it a whirl. If you're a Bowie fan, it will be well worth your time. The difference between old and new is night and day and if you hated the record as much as I did, you probably haven't heard it since 1987. "Never Let Me Down 2018" will play like a new Bowie record, and there's nothing wrong with that.
As for the rest of the box, you get remastered versions of "Let's Dance," which I still like, "Tonight," which I still don't, a double live set from the "Serious Moonlight" tour, which sounds great and has a great set list, the original version of "Never Let Me Down," which will never be removed from its sleeve, a triple live set from the "Glass Spider" tour featuring Peter Frampton on guitar that I've yet to play, but word on Bowie forums is claiming the audio isn't very good, a set called "Dance" featuring all remixes that I don't care about and a three-LP set called, "Re:Call 4," featuring stray tracks, b-sides, soundtrack songs and of course, the now legendary version of "Dancing In The Street" with Mick Jagger, which is a mixed bag of real good and real bad. It's a whole lot of money for a whole lot of mediocre, and that is coming from a Bowie fanatic. But, McNulty's new version of "Never Let Me Down" is the highlight and is worth seeking out.