This is the funkiest, grooviest track on Look Now but it doesn’t feel out of place. Costello has a way of skipping through genres on a single album without sacrificing the cohesiveness of the whole. This might be his Imperial Bedroom meets Painted From Memory album, but that doesn’t mean he can’t slip in a little Get Happy!! or Trust.
It’s also the moment I realized Look Now may well be Costello’s best album since 1986’s King of America and Blood & Chocolate. Bold statement, I know. And while I can make an argument for Spike, Brutal Youth, Momofuku and National Ransom, this album taps the vein of classic Costello in a way none of those releases did.
‘Unwanted Number’ is the fourth straight song sung from a woman’s perspective and the second that was written more than 20 years ago. Costello first penned this track for the 1996 film Grace of My Heart, a movie about a talented songwriter who is encouraged to record her own songs. The film was based on the early career of Carole King, who co-wrote an earlier song on this album.
Costello’s songs are often hard to analyze, between the British aphorisms (mostly lost on a Yank like me) and his flights of linguistic fancy. ‘Stripping Paper’ is a refreshing exception, easy to decipher and emotionally resonant.
Costello and King wrote this track 20 years ago and he has played it live over the years, but this is the first time the cut made its way onto an album.
Track two, ‘Don’t Look Now,’ is the first of three songs co-written by Burt Bacharach. This song slams on the brakes after the wild ‘Under Lime’ and takes us back to Painted From Memory territory. That Bacharach collaboration is not among my favorite Costello albums but it does have its charms, and this song does as well.
Wonder of wonders, the musical gods have graced us with a new Elvis Costello album, his first proper release since 2010’s National Ransom. He did drop 2013’s Wise Up Ghost alongside The Roots, but that collection of reworked tracks hardly counts as new material.
But this album, Look Now, is a dive back into the deep, lovely waters of classic Costello. It contains shades of his masterpiece Imperial Bedroom as well as underrated 90s gems Mighty Like a Rose and Brutal Youth. It also owes more than a little to Painted From Memory, his 1998 collaboration with Burt Bacharach, and indeed Bacharach co-wrote three of its songs.