Monday, October 22, 2018

The Monday Vinyl Round-Up, New & Old: #3

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.


buzzbabyjesus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
buzzbabyjesus said...

Downloading "Never let Me Down 2018" now. I've never heard the original, except maybe a video on MTV back in the day. Speaking of which, I was on my way past The black cube, and Cooper Union, heading to St Marks Place and SMASH cd's when a young woman with a clip board stopped and asked me if I'd like to be in a David Bowie video. I looked at her like she was crazy, and not hiding my disdain, said,"No'.
That was indeed, David Bowie's nadir. I really thought he was done.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sal, your new release posts are becoming my favorite.

Really curious about NLMD 2018.


Troy said...

I'm one of those Elvis Costello fans who cannot seem to get into what he has been doing for long time. I cannot tell you why. I have given the albums a listen and liked a few tracks here and there. But I don't play them all the way through. I don't dislike them, I just cannot for the life of me get into them. It bums me out, especially since I can't pinpoint what doesn't do it for me. The last one I really liked was the duet with Allen Toussaint, and that was probably more because of AT (although EC was pretty darn good on that one too). So far, I've heard about half of the new one and it sounds fine, and I will check out the rest when I have time. I know that there is some good stuff there so the issue isn't the quality of his work, but rather that it no longer resonates with me.

Shriner said...

Since I was the one who made the post in the comments box -- I will revise my statement (and I know this is one of the points where we disagree) and expound on them. "Anything good" was too harsh. Music is heard differently by everybody and music disliked by some is enjoyed by others and that's how it should be.

I have tried every (and I mean *every*) EC album. To me, "Look Now" is like a joyous visit from a favorite uncle who fell out of favor with the rest of the family. Considering how much I really, really like everything up to "Painted From Memory" -- and I can't believe that was 20 years ago now -- TWENTY! -- I felt like it was me that was missing something with everything that came after -- and certainly maybe it was. (And I've moved on from thinking that it's *only* the departure of Bruce Thomas that was the cause of this, too.)

Maybe "Look Now" is more of an Odds 'n Sods collection -- or a concerted effort to meld "Painted..." with "Imperial Bedroom" after the recent tour showcasing IB and that's why I like it so much, but if this is the last thing he ends up releasing as an artist (the cancer stories are a concern, certainly) -- it's incredibly solid, top-mid-tier Elvis (and may go higher with more spins). And I was not expecting that *at all*.

Echoing what Troy said above -- this album *resonates* where the the albums of the last 20 years did not.

Sal Nunziato said...

Apologies if my opening paragraph seemed personal. I did quote you, but the majority of EC fans feel more like you do, than I do, so it wasn't meant to be an attack, just a way to set up my review.

I've mentioned this a few times on this blog and I will mention it again. I got into a debate with a relative, that eventually turned unnecessarily ugly, because I loved Fountains Of Wayne's debut and he didn't. At ALL! But he loved the follow-up, "Utopia Parkway." To my ears, they are the same, both in sound and vibe. Of course, we all hear things differently. But that admittedly, drove me nuts. I just didn't get it. I would understand a giant leap--say Joe Jackson's Beat Crazy to Night & Day. But to my ears, Costello's work had less of a dramatic change. He was employing strings as far back as Imperial Bedroom, dabbling in country as far back as his debut, experimenting with textures as early as Spike, more so on Kojak and ATUB, etc. If "North" was the follow-up to "Armed Forces," it'd make more me. But 20 years is a lot of work to dismiss, when he's really only moved forward. Musically, the direction seems logical. It's the path that seemed to turn people off.

Shriner said...

No personal attack was felt. Don't worry about it. I wasn't intentionally baiting you with that comment in the box, either, but -- in retrospect -- I realize it might have been low hanging fruit. :-)

Dr Wu said...

Thanks for the reviews, Sal. I was fortunate to see EC and the Imposters on the recent ‘Imperial Bedroom’ tour and will happily embrace a return to that album’s influence. Will absolutely give a fresh listen to 2018’s ‘Never Let Me Down’. Like that it’s more guitar-oriented. Hopefully, the bombastic drum sound has been eliminated. (Obligatory tangent: any thoughts on the removal of ‘Too Dizzy’ from apparently all reissues of the album? Is it okay for an artist to revise their history?)
Your review of ‘Wild! Wild! Wild!’ has me excited to give that album a spin. So much to look forward to today! Thanks again, Burning Wood!

Ken D said...

I have been listening to Robbie Fulks all this time, ever since I saw him as an opening act at Mercury Lounge many years ago. Faced with a typical NYC club audience—paying no attention to the opener: talking, drinking, wandering around—Fulks had, within about twenty minutes, the whole club listening and cheering and calling for more. Never saw that before, don't think I've seen it since.

He's a giant talent. You should go back and try his previous records!
(This new record is tops on my must-buy list; I've just been kinda busy but glad to hear it's so good.)

cmealha said...

I found the new Elvis very satisfying and the first album I’ve enjoyed on first listen since “When I Was Cruel”. There have been some good songs since but for me the albums have been hit or miss. I liked everything on this album except for “Adieu Paris” and surpsingly the Carole King co-write “Burnt Sugar is So Bitter”. The former, with him singing French in a Liverpudlian accent sounds so pretentious. It’s not a bad song but that just turned me off. The King song just sounds like a forced me exercise. Based on some reviews I was really looking forward to it but was greatly disappointed. The rest of the album more than makes up for these disappointments. The material does trend towards the feel of “Painted from Memory” but there are flourishes that do recall “Imperial Bedroom”. Even 3 of the 4 bonus tracks are notable. The only thing that detracted form my enjoying this album even more is that 3 of the best songs were release ahead of the album and diminished the surprise a bit. Also, one of the best songs “You Shouldn’t Look at Me That Way” was previously part of a movie soundtrack. My favorite lyric from “Photographs Can Lie” - “In a frame under glass/We’ll always be together and so in love/ But photographs can lie.”
He’s still got it.

Sal Nunziato said...

cmealha, I totally agree with you regarding the Carole King co-write. It's very clumsy and my least fave on the record. I wonder if it feels weak because the expectation was high. AS for "Adieu Paris," I hear ya, but that melody is gorgeous.

cmealha said...

Sal, I think I was more disappointed about "Burnt Sugar.." than I would have been because of the expectation but I still wouldn't have liked it. It's very forced ad the lyrics seem to be shoe-horned to fit a melody. It just doesn't flow. But that's ok, to paraphrase Meatloaf, 14 out of 16 ain't bad. ;-)

dogbreath said...

I have Bowie's "Never Let Me Down" sitting around in its shiny new Alien incarnation and am almost afraid to play it as I well remember the shudders the original release gave me! But having read your comments, and ignorant as I was of the revamp details, I will gird my loins and give it a spin. So thanks for the morale boost. Cheers!

Chris Collins said...

I've been listening to the Elvis Costello record a LOT and I love it. Lots. I must live in an alternate universe where the entire world pays attention to everything EC does. I like that universe better.

Now i have to give that Bowie a spin.

Bill said...

Like Chris, I've been listening to the new Elvis album more than I normally do with a new album. It took a couple of listens for the songs to separate, but now that they have I find myself going back frequently. Besides Unwanted Number, I wasn't familiar with any of the older songs. And I don't think you can tell that some of the songs have been around for a while--the album feels of a piece.

I think the comparisons with Imperial Bedroom and Painted From Memory are apt, probably a little closer to Painted From Memory. Elvis isn't pushing at the notes so hard, as he sometimes did on Painted From memory, so I find his singing a little easier to handle.

And of course, it's great to hear the Imposters doing their thing. On some of the songs--Under Lime, for example--the bass is especially muscular and recalls some of Bruce Thomas' playing from back in the day.

Looking forward to seeing some of these songs live next month!

Unknown said...

Sal, thanks for bringing up some of those "lost" EC albums, but especially "Momofuku"--it bears revisiting. Quite a few terrific songs.

Honest Ed said...

Another longstanding EC fan, his music has been part of the soundtrack of my life. For me the turning point of his career was Blood And Chocolate, the album where he just stopped being EC and the Attractions and started trying to sound like EC and the A, if that makes sense. For the record, I also think B&C is a great, great record, but it felt more self conscious. I do think he peaked in that period between 77-86 but he's made many fantastic records since then just not, for me, quite as good.

Almost everything he's done has had some great stuff on it. I loved Momofuku, loved the collaborations, I happily put North on because I actually really like it, same with the Roots record. So, I hope, I'm not an old fart who can't cope with a favourite artist growing and changing. But I'm struggling with this one. Listened a few times and it feels like a bunch of outtakes, and it seems clear why they're outtakes. Under Lime is good but very Imperial Bedroomy, only not good enough for that classic. The Carole King song gets attention because it's Carole King, not because it's particularly good. I'll give it another few spins, there's nothing really grabbing me so far.

Troy said...

@ Honest Ed - I agree completely. B&C is the last album that I really loved by EC. Everything since has had some good stuff, but has not resonated with me. Something changed (at least, for me) after that record, and to this day I cannot put my finger on what that is.

I, too, hope I'm not an old fart who can't cope with a favorite artist growing and changing.

Thanks for your comments, they helped me pinpoint my turning point with EC.

Sal Nunziato said...

@Honest Ed and Troy

You guys gave me an idea for a post.

Honest Ed said...

In a good way, I hope!

One other, I don't know if you've already done something like this... CD's have bloated album lengths, often by 50%. What 50/60 minutes albums have a great 40 minute album lurking inside? Not double albums!

Troy... I also think he's done some of his very best music after B&C. Like Tramp The Dirt Down.

Anyway, I'm going to stick Look Now on for another listen! This time, hopefully.

Sal Nunziato said...

@Honest Ed
I think it’s good! It’s something I’ve always been curious about, having loved Frank Sinatra, doo wop and big band music since I was 3. There’s a bit of a hint right there.

Bill said...

Sal, you mentioned Sinatra and I think there's a parallel between Sinatra and Costello's careers. For me, the Capitol years are Sinatra's best--it's the era where he perfected his craft and took his record-making to a higher level. Costello's Columbia years are the same, where he perfected who he was and the kind of artist he was. When he moved to Warners, the material was till good and interesting, but it couldn't compare to what he reached in those first ten years.

Sal Nunziato said...

I don't disagree. Though I will offer this, while Frank records like "Wee Small Hours," "Only The Lonely," not to mention all the great singles for Capitol are considered his greatest, it was years later that records like "Sinatra-Jobim," "Sinatra-Ellington," both Basie records and even the baroque pop and very Scott Walker-ish "Watertown" got some real attention and long-deserved acclaim. The parallel really is remarkable. For me, "King Of America" and "B&C" are EC's masterpieces. What followed was a label change, outside musicians and a new muse. I won't argue that EC's first ten years were truly amazing, but I will argue that what followed is far better than what many seem to have little patience for. Let's pick this up in 2029, when "Momofuku" and "When I Was Cruel" are being touted as lost masterpieces. Get in on it NOW!

Bill said...

Sal, I totally agree, and will be carrying the lonely torch from now until 2029. I'm a huge fan of The Delivery Man and The River in Reverse and Momofuku and (yes) National Ransom, and generally listen to those albums more than some of Costello's earlier work (which I have tattooed on my brain).

But when I get on a Blood and Chocolate tear, I'll listen to it a dozen times in the space of a week.

Honest Ed said...

It's interesting hearing Americans talk of EC and his career in terns of Columia years and Warners years.

He was very much a British artist in the early years and his stuff wasn't released on Columbia then. He was a bit of a magpie then, moving from label to label, aligning with particular, small indie labels almost as a statement. My Aim was on Stiff. Around Get Happy, he was aligned with Two-Tone. Most of his stuff came out on FBeat, which IIRC was his manager's label, though EC may have had a stake in it.

Sal, wasn't King Of America really the start of working with other musicians and a new muse?

Sal Nunziato said...

Yes, Honest Ed. You are correct. But I guess, to your new point, I had label change on my mind.