Yeah, you read right: Elvis Costello’s new album is on the esteemed Deutsche Grammophon label. Wait, it gets better. Clocking in at a breezy 40 minutes, North has 11 tracks — all of them jazz ballads which give new vistas of meaning to the word minimal.
Did I say minimal? Check that; the mood is downright ambient: brushes lightly caressing a snare drum while a haunting sax moans somewhere off in a corner. Nearby, a piano sparsely fills gaps in the soul’s emotional mortar. Strings dart in and out like leaves swirling on a windy October night. Instrumentation is so achingly sparse that the singer might as well be emoting to himself in an empty room.
Conjure up a languid cross between Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely and Jackie Gleason Presents Music For Lovers Only and you’ll still come up short and gasping for superlatives.
Why? Because this album is an unmitigated masterpiece — and that’s definitely saying something given that my two all-time favorite Elvis Costello albums are the rabid rave-ups Armed Forces and When I Was Cruel. But your soul would have to be emotionally void not to recognize that the man’s deeply in love and, taking his musical and lyrical cues from the masters, is writing an all-too-public love letter straight from the heart.
Which isn’t to say that Elvis has allowed his blind passion to mute his muse. On the contrary, even a deceptively simple line like “Let me tell you about her; hush now, I’ve said too much,” is pure clever Costello, yet nevertheless resonates with a timeless universal truth.
If all this makes North sound as if it’s far too painful an experience for your current emotional state, then maybe you’d be better off steering clear of it, like a single avoids a Hallmark card store on Valentine’s Day. Because North is the kind of album that will be appreciated by all aficionados of classic romantic songs — not to mention people who have recently fallen in love with their soul mate.
Hush now, I’ve said too much.
E-mail Jeffrey Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.