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Elvis Costello - Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

2009-08-27 11:12
Secret, Profane & Sugarcane

Some fans will demand something new and surprising. But people like me who just can't keep track of his creative output will just be pleasantly surprised by this old fashioned new blue country album.

Here's a songwriter who - however oddball some of his work is (example – for those trainspotters to nod along to, or those who don't go 'oh wow!' he wrote "Watching the Detetectives"!), and however much he likes to hop from genre to genre – always remains unavoidably of his time; the never-ending musical 1970s that just keeps on stretching into the future, thanks to guys like Jackson Browne, and Randy Newman.

Secret, Profane and Sugarcane explores that old drug-addled dark side of human nature, beginning with the image of a man whose identity and addiction is linked to the swing doors of a bar in "Down Among the Wine and Spirit". There's almost murderous focus behind the superficial cheese of "All Time Doll", with its stalking double baseline. Deceptively simple jams like "Hidden Shame" go from chug-along verse to a chorus that strains at the leash to escape some kind of personal hell. Later, a woman hands him a mirror so he can recognise "the distance from my heart to hers" and against the waltzing of romantic strings, the vocals torture themselves, breaking with the chords.

Some people (the crazy ones) won't like T-Bone Burnett's suave touch on production, but because the songs on this record capture so many different reactions or moods Burnett's airbrushed old Americana style is the glue that makes this album sound like an album in the old sense, rather than the quickly recorded outtakes from Costello's recent career that it actually is.

Elvis Costello knows the rules of songwriting, and he's also one of the best at bending them. He still makes beautiful, satisfying songs about ugly things, and that’s always the best kind of music.

Actually, if he weren't already a musical living legend (if, say, he was some twenty-year-old from Canada) everyone might well be hailing Costello as the next big thing on the basis of this album alone.

Don't expect a revelation from old Elvis, but don't underestimate this quiet next step on his musical path either.

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