Album Review: Look Now by Elvis Costello and The Imposters

Posted by Bianca on Friday Nov 16, 2018 Under Album Review

Review by John Bentley

Elvis Costello is one of those long-career artists who seem to manage to stay artistically vibrant against the odds. Back in the late 1970s, with singles like ‘Watching the Detectives’, he quickly established himself as one of the most intelligent commentators on the punk / new-wave music scene, a man with songwriting attitude who could pen both great tunes and incisive lyrics. However, unlike many of his 70s contemporaries, Costello was not going to be confined as a one-trick artist and he quickly moved on to make a huge range of records spanning many styles and genres (including country, R & B, Brill Building, string quartet). He has also collaborated with some great names in the music business, including Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach. He’s not predictable and whenever a new album is announced the question is what version of Elvis Costello will this record represent?

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Well, ‘Look Now’ is Costello’s first album for a decade with his long-term band The Imposters (original band, The Attractions, morphed into The Imposters as Davey Faragher replaced Bruce Thomas on bass). However, it’s not the stripped-down ‘rock’ version of The Imposters that we know from such catalogue favourites as ‘Blood and Chocolate’, ‘Brutal Youth’ and ‘When I Was Cruel’. It’s more Costello as mature composer of songs and musical collaborator (here with Burt Bacharach and Carole King) backed by The Imposters and other musicians. Many of the songs are big productions, including strings, brass and woodwind.

The dense lyrics of the songs embrace a string of characters, many of whom are in relationships of various kinds, with Costello sometimes taking the role of the female protagonist, as in the sad but rather beautiful album closer, ‘He’s Given Me Things’. Rather than being judgemental Costello is more the observer and reporter on the life situations he describes. Meanwhile ‘I Let the Sun Go Down’ is a sober observation of Britain as it is now, again without judgement. ‘Stripping Paper’ uses the metaphor of stripping back layers of wallpaper to contemplate times past. ‘Suspect My Tears’ meanwhile sounds like it should have been a hit in the 1960s for someone like Dusty Springfield.

While including the wit you would expect from Costello, it’s not an optimistic album, but more one that looks at relationships, situations and the past with mature contemplation and resignation. ‘Look Now’ is a quality album that isn’t light-listening and doesn’t follow fashions or trends, but it’s obviously one that Costello wanted to make and it’s one that grows on the listener with repeated plays.

‘Look Now’ is released on Concord Records and is already starting to appear in end-of-year lists of 2018’s best albums.

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Photo by John Bentley for Gig Junkies of Elvis Costello and The Imposters at Birmingham, 2012.

Look Now – Released 12th October 2018 on Concord

Tracklist: Under Lime; Don’t Look Now; Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter; Stripping Paper; Unwanted Number; I Let the Sun Go Down; Mr & Mrs Hush; Photographs Can Lie; Dishonour the Stars; Suspect My Tears; Why Won’t Heaven Help Me?; He’s Given Me Things. The De-Luxe Special Edition also includes : Isabelle in Tears; Adieu Paris (L’Envie Des Etoiles) ; The Final Mrs Curtain; You Shouldn’t Look at Me That Way.

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