When Elvis Costello was promoting his last album, the eclectic “Hey Clockface,” in 2020, he told Variety, “The guitar songs I’ve written for are for another day,.” And now, it appears, that day is at hand.
Costello is announcing a new album that promises to go more full-bore into his rock ‘n’ roll side than he has in many years. “The Boy Named If,” coming out Jan. 14, 2022, will be his first album with EMI — set to be released through Capitol Records in the U.S. — and, perhaps more importantly to fans, sounds like it’ll be the first since “Momofuku” in 2008 to really utilize his current band, the Imposters, for the kind of fury they typically achieve in concert in reviving the old Attractions-era material.
In a press release that seems to have been written in Costello’s own hand even outside of the direct quotes, the forthcoming effort is described as “a new album of urgent, immediate songs with bright melodies, guitar solos that sting and a quick step to the rhythm.”
That thumbnail description is born out in a track premiering today, “Magnificent Hurt,” which previously had been heard only by concert audiences over the past few weeks, a handful of journalists and others who got promotional 45s in the mail, and listeners of a Memphis college station where he spontaneously premiered the tune earlier this month on the eve of opening his tour there.
It also seems like a fair characterization based on another all-out rock ‘n’ roll number, “Farewell OK,” that’s the leadoff track on the forthcoming album. It was previously available as a streaming song for just a matter of hours last New Year’s Eve, before Costello took it down just as furtively as he’d put it up — although it streamed just long enough to be recorded and bootlegged among fans as a welcome return to a familiar spirit.
It’s not clear that all of the new album will represent that same kind of return to a certain kind of form. But what seems almost certain is that Costello won’t be winning a Grammy for “traditional pop” with this album, the way he, the Imposters and producer Sebastian Krys did for their last project together, the more sedate, Bacharach-leaning “Look Now.”
Said Costello in a statement announcing the new album: “Pete (Thomas, his longtime drummer), Steve (Nieve, his keyboard player) 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,'” he said, pointing to a fall release that took the basic tracks from his 1978 classic sophomore and put Latin stars’ new Spanish-language lead vocals on top of them. “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.”
Despite the return to a more classic Attractions/Imposters sound, the album was recorded during lockdown with the players mostly in separate locales. Said Costello, “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. … The initial rhythm section for this record was my guitar and Pete Thomas’ 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.” That would be the current home country of the combo’s keyboard player. “If the record sounded swell as a trio,” Costello said, “Steve Nieve’s organ was the icing on the cake, the cherry and the little silver balls.”
Costello’s statement made it sound as if the new record might bear some conceptual aspirations. “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.” The album’s 13 songs, he promised, “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.”
After having his 2020 tour of Europe interrupted by the pandemic, Costello picked up on the road in America with a “Hello Again” our that kicked off Oct. 13 in Memphis. It reaches Los Angeles’ brand new YouTube Theatre on Nov. 13 before drawing to a close at Oakland’s Fox the following night.
The tour has had a few interesting wrinkles. Nieve was not able to participate in Monday night’s show at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY, after testing positive more than once for COVID in a spot check just prior to taking the stage. By Tuesday morning, the keyboardist was testing negative, and the group’s second night at the Capitol went on with Nieve in tow. Not all was lost without him. At the very beginning of their outing, guitarist Charlie Sexton had been brought in as an extra player when it turned out Nieve would be delayed in coming to the U.S. from Paris. Even after Nieve got across the Atlantic, Sexton stayed on board — something that came in handy when Nieve’s false positive this week set off alarm bells. Their road shows have included a few choices from the new album from night to night.
“The Boy Named If” will be available day-and-date on vinyl and cassette as well as CD and digital. Also available will be an 88-page hardback “storybook edition,” numbered and signed by Costello.
The full track list:
1. Farewell, OK
2. The Boy Named If
3. Penelope Halfpenny
4. The Difference
5. What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love?
6. Paint the Red Rose Blue
7. Mistook Me for a Friend
8. My Most Beautiful Mistake (guest vocal by Nicole Atkins)
9. Magnificent Hurt
10. The Man You Love to Hate
11. The Death of Magic Thinking
12. Trick Out the Truth
13. Mr. Crescent