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CD of The Week

Week of 11/09/20

    Elvis Costello - Hey Clockface (Concord)

    Elvis Costello's 40+ year career and catalog can be summed up by one word: "eclectic." He's always seemed equally comfortable fronting a traditional rock band lineup, collaborating with a string quartet, recording with The Roots or spending time in the folk-country genre. However, Costello generally sticks to a specific overall style on each album. With his newest, Hey Clockface, the Rock Hall of Famer hopscotches all over the musical map.

    There's a very good reason Hey Clockface feels like three records mashed together – the songs were recorded in very different sessions and locations. Three tracks were completely recorded by Costello alone in Helsinki, Finland; then much of the record was recorded in Paris with his longtime bandmate Steve Nieve and a group of string and horn players; with the final few tunes finished off in New York with composer Michael Leonhart and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, among others.

    The first taste of Hey Clockface arrived months ago with "No Flag," a gnarly, loud guitar rocker raging at the world around us, with "No sign for the dark place that I live / No god for the damn that I don't give." However, it also contains the intimate torch song "They're Not Laughing at Me Now," the noir jazz of "I Do (Zulu's Song)" and the dark, ominous "We Are All Cowards Now." Halfway through, the record takes a sharp left turn into the jaunty Tin Pan Alley pastiche "Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me?" with Costello doing his best Randy Newman.

    The true gem of Hey Clockface is "Hettie O'Hara Confidential," a tale of an old fashioned gossip columnist who had all the dirt on every celebrity and how passé that world has become. Built around samples of Costello himself beatboxing, this unique percussion lays the foundation for bouncy organs and endless wordiness.

    The album also includes a pair of quieter, spoken word tracks: the album-opener "Revolution #49" (an obvious reference from this noted Beatlemaniac) and "Radio is Everything," coming from the viewpoint of a deceptive man in power using his voice to broadcast his lies (hmm…).

    The whiplash of Hey Clockface makes it feel that releasing it as three separate EPs would've led to a more cohesive result, for those who still care about actual albums (and Costello clearly does). But with this new collection, even after all these years and all these songs, it's still easy to make time for more new music from the King.
    Review by Joey O.

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