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Dan Baker

CD of The Week

Week of 1/24/22

    Elvis Costello & The Imposters - The Boy Named If (EMI / Capitol)

    Over his 45+ year career, Elvis Costello has explored every area of his musical interests, from covering country classics to experimental jazz excursions. However, as you’d expect, a good portion of his fanbase has just wanted him to stick to the sounds of his first decade of music-making – spiky fast-paced rockers and introspective ballads. On The Boy Named If, he gives the people what they want and pumps it up for his most retro record in years.

    The Boy Named If starts with a bang, thanks to “Farewell OK,” a kiss-off set to an old-school rave-up straight out of the earliest rock and roll playbooks… or his own Get Happy. The lurching title track sets out the loose conceit of the record – the boy named “if” is your imaginary friend… or a convenient non-existent scapegoat later in life. The grown-up consequences come back around in “The Death of Magic Thinking.”

    “Penelope Halfpenny” (get it? “Penny Halfpenny”) would fit in fine on Armed Forces and is the latest in Costello’s endless character studies throughout his career. “Mistook Me for a Friend” revs up the tempo to document some seedy encounters while "Paint the Red Rose Blue" is a classic Costello ballad and a poignant look at a relationship fading away.

    What links The Boy Named If back to Costello’s most beloved rockers more than anything is the lively keyboards of Steve Nieve. While he’s played on nearly every one of Costello’s albums, Nieve is fully leaning into the organ sounds that define so many of Elvis’ hits. Exhibit A is lead single “Magnificent Hurt.”

    As always, Costello’s wordplay is winding and dense, with narratives about complex characters and their questionable decisions that you really need to follow on the page. His turn of phrase is unmistakable though… Who else sets the scene with an evocative lyric like “All of the patrons in the pews were people that I'd killed or used,” from the vaudeville-influenced “Man You Love to Hate.”

    Costello has constantly been an artist who does whatever he pleases when it comes to following his musical muse while simultaneously being a born showman. The Boy Named If finds those impulses interacting, making this year’s model of an Elvis record one that you can trust to satisfy fans, critics and imaginary friends alike.
    Review by Joey O.

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