This Year's Model

No ivory-tower theorist, the great Elvis Costello changes colors with the season

Costello believes that his recent growth as a songwriter has been a musical one. "I've gotten progressively more musically inclined as time's gone on, because I've learned more things," he says. He has since come to believe that his words should underline the meaning of the music; the music, in turn, should be textured, capable of evoking moods that words cannot fully express. "Sometimes the music leads the way; sometimes the words lead the way," he says. "But one is not more important than the other."

The result is that, since his excellent 1986 album, King of America, Costello has strayed far from his amphetamine-fueled, pub-rock roots into a world that is elegiac, symphonic, and epic. His recordings, with their layers of voices, sounds, and perspectives, creep along like passion plays. Many of them are too ambitious, dripping off the canvas like so much excess paint. But when they balance that abundance with focus and concision, they reveal priceless, hard-earned insights.

Elvis Costello: His aim is still true.
Elvis Costello: His aim is still true.

Though he's no longer the angry young man, Costello is more alive and vital than the adult alternative scene, with the bathetic singer-songwriters and faded pop stars that Costello is usually categorized with. For all its sophistication, The Delivery Man debuted at number 40 last fall, proof that Costello still has an audience for his incessant evolutions.

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