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Albums Of The Week: Elvis Costello & The Imposters | The Boy Named If

The master songwriter gets back in touch with his inner rocker on his 32nd album — and delivers an urgent disc that holds its own with his earliest & strongest works.

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If Elvis Costello has made a bad album, I haven’t heard it. And I’m pretty damn sure I’ve heard them all.

Having said that, it’s true that not all Costello albums are created equal. Some are serious and some are playful. Some are softer and more sophisticated. Others flirt with country, soul, hip-hop, jazz or even classical. I dig them all. But most of all, I love the ones where he cranks up, cuts loose, lets his hair down (figuratively speaking) and rocks. That’s why I love The Boy Named If. As always with Costello, pretty much every song is smart and sharp, snappy and superbly crafted. But most of all, these cuts also pack the punch, potency and propulsion of a lot of his earliest and strongest work. The drums are earthy and loose, the guitars sting and sear, the keyboards are rich and often rollicking, Costello’s vocals are delivered with gusto, and the whole thing has the sort of urgency and vitality that grabs you from the first song and holds you until the last. It’s a keeper. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

 


THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Elvis Costello and The Imposters’ The Boy Named If is a new album of urgent, immediate songs with bright melodies, guitar solos that sting and a quick step to the rhythm.

Says Costello: ”The full title of this record is The Boy Named If (And Other Children’s Stories).’ IF is a nickname for your imaginary friend; your secret self, the one who knows everything you deny, the one you blame for the shattered crockery and the hearts you break, even your own. You can hear more about this Boy in a song of the same name.”

Speaking of the lyrical content of the record, he added, “Once upon a time, when I didn’t know what a kiss could do and didn’t even dare to caress, the way ahead was a mystery; a departing from that magic state called innocence for the pain that leads to pleasure and all that jazz. Don’t get me started about the guilt and shame and all those other useless possessions that you must throw overboard before you set sail with your dreamboat (and a runcible spoon).”

Photo by Mark Seliger.

Produced by Sebastian Krys and Costello, the album is a collection of 13 snapshots “that take us from 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,” as Costello put it. “Whatever you take out of these tales, I wrote them for you and to make the life of these songs a little less lonely, if you should care to dive in a little deeper.”

“I started The Boy Named If with just an electric guitar, some sharps and flats, high heels and lowdowns, with five songs in bright major keys and carried on to write a whole new record for The Imposters to play,” Costello said. “The initial rhythm section for this record was my guitar and Pete Thomas’s Gretsch drums, recorded down in Bonaparte Rooms West. Our Imposter pal of 20 years standing Davey Faragher soon dialed in his Fender bass and vocals while we awaited dispatches from France. If the record sounded swell as a trio, Steve Nieve’s organ was the icing on the cake, the cherry and the little silver balls.”

Since being forced to cut short a U.K. tour in March 2020, Costello has released the album Hey Clockface and the French language EP, La Face de Pendule à Coucou, featuring the voices of Iggy Pop and Isabelle Adjani. In the last 12 months, he has also completed How To Play Guitar & Y, a comedic Words & Music production for audible.com, released the lavish vinyl box-set edition of the 1979 album Armed Forces, and a star-studde Spanish-language adaptation of his 1978 sophomore album This Year’s Model.

“Pete, Steve and myself started out playing rocking pop music in another century. This year, This Year’s Model came back to surprise us in another tongue. That edition is called Spanish Model. Both that album and The Boy Named If are records that are happening right now and if you want to draw a line between them, go right ahead. Sometimes I sit and write things down, the rest of the time I play guitar in a rock ’n’ roll band. I love my family. I really love everybody, especially the people I can’t stand, even those who trespass against us and there are a lot of them.”