Elvis Costello is back in business with ‘Look Now’

by Sarah Sherard

Elvis Costello is back in business with ‘Look Now’

Elvis Costello & The Imposters
Look Now

Concord Records · October 12, 2018

Elvis Costello is back in business with ‘Look Now’

Following a recording hiatus, Elvis Costello returns to prove that his talent did not dwindle.

It has been over a decade since the last time Elvis Costello and The Imposters banded together in the studio to produce an album. He left it ambiguous as to whether he was going to record another album by telling Mojo, “I’m not of mind to record anymore.” For a time, he stuck to live performances, straying from any new music after 2010’s National Ransom. But with this album, he said in one interview that “[it] portrays my band The Imposters and myself [as] who we are now.” Look Now acts as a storybook, a collective of other people’s tragedies, as Costello steps into the role of others and seeks to voice their struggles with empathetic precision.

The first song ‘Under Lime’ picks up where Costello last left off in ‘Jimmie Standing in the Rain’ from National Ransom. The sequel depicts washed-up performer Jimmie trying to get back into television by participating in a back-alley type game show. He develops a creepy obsession with the young girl working on the show who is assigned to “keep him amused”. It’s a contrast to the other admirable and resilient characters on the album, but it still shows off Costello’s impeccable songwriting skills and The Imposters touch for musical glamour.

‘Burnt Sugar is So Bitter’ jumps out as the star of the album among a collection of masterful songs. Written with songwriter legend Carole King over 20 years ago, the song tells the story of wife who is left to pick up the pieces after her husband left her behind. The characters in these songs are tinged with tragedy, exemplified with lines like “They already know how a woman may advance/ From a pretty picture hat to a supermarket trance.” With brass horns and a powerful gospel choir aggrandizing the band, the layered arrangement fits perfectly within the cohesion of the album while also leaving a lasting impression on the listener. King and Costello’s musical talents complement each other while producing a song reminiscent of early 60’s pop.

While Costello’s tender and heartbreaking storytelling is evident throughout this album, the emotional landscape is reinforced by The Imposters and their brilliant virtuoso. It’s commendable that the sound feels so pure, not relying on production. All the songs sound like the culmination of talent and practice instead of studio tricks. Costello and the band seem to have the natural ability to effortlessly pick up where they last left off and to stick to a sound that listeners have loved since the 1970s. Burt Bacharach, a famous pianist who Costello has worked with before, composed the piano arrangements for ‘Photographs Can Lie’ and ‘Don’t Look Now’. Bacharach works in his style of simple yet complex piano numbers that make the songs even more touching and somber. ‘Photographs Can Lie’ speaks about the heartbreak of passing time, where a woman nostalgically looks at a happy picture of her family after finding out that her father was cheating on her mother the entire time. The soft piano ballad enhances the sensitivity, making the song carry a weight of emotion that the listener can sympathize to.

Look now: Costello is back in business. The album proves that in his recording hiatus, his talent did not dwindle. He paints rich narratives filled with dimensional characters in songs that somehow weave themselves together seamlessly into cohesion. Costello demonstrates the control of music that he’s famous for and his age only purified his voice, singing with more rawness than ever. Hopefully, Look Now won’t be the last of this reappearance because it seems like there’s a lot more story within him.

Listen to Look Now: