Continuing my look at 2004, first by counting down my own top ten albums of that year.
#7 – Elvis Costello – The Delivery Man
Like Ron Sexsmith, Elvis Costello is an artist who has put out so many albums it’s hard to keep up. He has released 13 albums in this century alone, none of which I’d number among his very best.
But that run of albums does include some solid work, including the country rock song cycle The Delivery Man.
This record started as a concept album about a mysterious man and his relationships with three different women. Guest vocalists Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris feature prominently on several songs, giving voice to those characters.
The narrative aspect fell apart somewhere between concept and execution, and The Delivery Man doesn’t end up telling much of a cohesive story. What it does do is offer up some excellent songs, veering between heavier blues rock and Americana balladry. The album has a few throwaway tracks (such as lead single ‘Monkey To Man’) but much of it is quite good.
I always like Costello’s forays into country, especially when tinged with his typical off-kilter sensibility and adventurous musical choices. The Delivery Man is no King of America, but it has its share of rootsy thrills.
“Abel was able,” so Vivian said
Her shoulders flung forward
Her lips in a purse
She talks like the beauty that she never was
Of the fabulous wild nights that she never has
In a certain light he looked like Elvis
In a certain way he feels like Jesus
Everyone dreams of him just as they can
But he’s only the humble Delivery Man
Geraldine blushes and brushes away
The cigarette ashes that Vivian scatters
Stares out of the window at the things that she says
While gossip within her competes with the widow
Ever since he’s gone, she feels like crying all the time
She knows for sure Vivian is lying
Now she has a daughter to raise as she can
She just wouldn’t trust that Delivery Man
Ivy puts down the ghost story she’s reading
Looks up at that face on the wall
Thinking about how her father lay bleeding
Shot in the back ‘cos orders were misleading
And how a flag and a medal don’t have any meaning
On the 5th of July as they tore down the fair
And he’d seen all the local girls who were worth kissing
With the smell of the gunpowder still in the air
They noticed that Abel and Ivy were missing
He said “Why can’t we be kind to me like you were meant to be?
When they let me out, I had a brand new identity
I agree that this is one of EC’s better albums in the 21st century, and also agree that neither this nor any other album released since 2000 is as great as his output in the 80s.