ELVIS COSTELLO North (2003 UK Special Limited Edition 2-disc [CD/DVD] set comprising of the 12-track CD album featuring the Bonus Recording
Impatience plus a Bonus DVD
including an exclusive interview and 3 musicl videos complete with lyric booklet picture sleeve)
Elvis Costello has had a long and successful flirtation with cabaret singing, yet he's seldom delivered the style with the consistently stripped-down directness of North
. Costello claims the album's songs bubbled forth nearly fully-formed over the winter of 2002-3, and indeed they often ebb and flow with an unpredictable fluidity that seems to reflect the songwriter's subconscious mind (to the point of occasionally conjuring fleeting, almost spectral melodic references from his beloved pop standards) at its most creatively naked.
For an artist who's long prided himself on the wilful literacy and challenging symbolism of his lyrics, the transparency of his romantic musings here is often startling. Probably inspired by an arc of emotional change in his own life (Costello hints that the bittersweet "You Left Me in the Dark" and hopeful "I'm in the Mood Again" don't bookend the album by coincidence), a subtext of difficult romantic communication also surfaces repeatedly on tracks like the dramatic "Someone Took the Words Away" and lovely "When It Sings", while the neo-classicism of "Still" reunites Costello with the Brodsky Quartet in arguably the album's most traditional, sophisticated moment.
Backed by Steve Nieve's spare, haunting piano (the instrument the songwriter composed the songs at; this is the most guitar-free album of his career), the drums of Peter Erskine, the double bass of Mike Formanek and the most economical of orchestral flourishes, Costello creates a decidedly autumnal mood. His gently quavering voice is pushed into the spotlight as never before as he takes a musical tightrope walk whose sublime execution seldom belies its conceptual audacity. --Jerry McCulley