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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 17 September 2004
If I want reliability I'll FedEx it.
The Delivery Man he may be, but this is a long overdue package: a much welcome, if not totally successful, return to form by Elvis Costello. He can write beautifully, but as with all of his stuff he just doesn't know when to stop writing more and more bloody words.
Still, backed by The Imposters (or the Almost Attractions - Steve Nieve, Davey Faragher and Pete Thomas) this is one of the best sounding and best played albums in a dog's age from the one-time Declan MacManus.
I don't mean that to be faint praise, because aside from one or two mis-steps, this is a darned fine band album. Recorded in Oxford, Mississippi, it has a great live feel to it (it really sounds like it is being played by a band playing together).
Better yet, there are some excellent guest vocal contributions from Lucinda Williams and, particularly, Emmylou Harris (the gorgeous "Heart Shaped Bruise" and the closing "Scarlet Tide").
It's great to have him back.
I'm not sure what the latest Mrs C will think of the dedication on the album: "This record is for my wife"; nice sentiment, but, eh, which wife? Sorry...
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on 4 April 2005
Who cares if the idea of a retreat into "alt-country" seems like something of a cynical attempt to cash in on the success of retro-rockers like Ryan Adams, Bonnie Prince Billy, Lambchop and The White Stripes...? this is Costello delivering the goods, with a blistering semi-concept album about the murderous intent of a lustful delivery man and the women that fall under his spell. Of course, the central motif of the album goes beyond mere seduction and greed, as Costello also incorporates a fair amount of his trademark angst and bile, as he lays into current political problems post 9/11, the judicial system, social malaise and wanton heartbreak. The results are quite astounding, with Costello seemingly re-invigorated after the classical-jazz experiments found on 2003's underrated release North and last year's instrumental work, Ill Sogno, with the rock star finally looking back to the style of music that made him famous... creating a work of raw emotional resonance replete with muddy pub-rock production, noisy guitars and an over-all genius band performance from the Impostors.
As with his best work, like This Year's Model, Imperial Bedroom and Trust, you get a real sense that Costello and the band are having a great deal of fun creating this music and using the production to develop an atmosphere that complements - as opposed to overwhelming - the intent of the songs. It is true that some will find this wilful, haphazard approach to the recording a little off-putting, though I think others will appreciate the country feel that we get from these songs, as well as the welcome change of pace following the over-production and purposeful stylisation of many of Costello's more-recent records of the last decade. Also, I think it could be said the use of production here helps to draw the listener's attention back to the arrangement of the instrumentation and towards Costello's always great lyrical wit, especially given that a more robust or crystal-clear approach to the overall mastering of the sound would have drawn out the limitations and obvious pretensions of Costello's melodramatic concept.
Here, it is the music that really takes centre stage, with the whole record benefiting from the live and loose approach to recording, which really brings out the emotive subtleties in Costello's gruff vocals (he even reaches an almost falsetto on a couple of the tracks!), whilst the band (which here comprises of former attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas as well as bassist Davey Faragher and backing vocals from Lucinda Williams and the legendary Emmylou Harris) manage to take the songs to places that EC alone could never achieve. For me, it is the inclusion of Nieve and Harris that really makes The Delivery Man come to life, with Nieve laying down melodic and haunting organ/piano passages that break through the aggression of Costello's distorted, bluesy guitar, whilst Harris swoops in like an angle and complements those ear-splitting Elvis vocals in a way that brings to mind those great records she made with Gram Parsons. The album certainly invokes a certain time and place, both through the use of instrumentation and through production, but also, through Costello's lyrics. However, as noted above, the album has a much more contemporary and socially aware underlining, which seems to deviate from mere notions of farmhouses and country roads, and definitely shows Costello to be light years ahead of his bloated contemporaries and those youthful country-grave-robbers listed at the start of this review.
The very first verse of the record, "don't wanna talk about the government, don't wanna talk about some incident, don't wanna talk about no peppermint gum, don't wanna talk about the time to come..." seems to be lashing out against the current trend of mindless pop stars talking politics as a way of gaining kudos from the press (and let's not forget, Costello has always been political... What's So Funny 'Bout..., Oliver's Army, Shipbuilding and Tramp the Dirt Down, et al), before he too lashes out against the foibles of the world in a way that seems to be lambasting his younger self... "button my lip, till I'm old enough, button my lip, till I'm smart enough". Both Bedlam and first single Monkey to Man continue this theme, with the former acting as a Costello style country rap (not a million miles away from Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues by way of something from his own album, When I Was Cruel) filled with evocative and confrontational imagery, whilst the latter has a bouncing country/surf melody that hides the sinister refrain "it's been heading this way since the word began, since one vicious creature took the jump... from monkey to man". However, the creative high of all this political and social reflection comes with the later track, She's Pulling Out the Pin, which has already been pulled from the US version (apparently) for it's juxtaposition of eroticised imagery that masks the truer, darker intent of the song.
The rest of the tracks seem to deal more explicitly with themes central to the concept, with stories of love, lust and heartbreak being expressed in Costello's typically brash and bitter style. Country Darkness could have come from Van Morrison's early 70s Tupelo Honey/His Band and the Street Choir period whilst There's a Story in Your Voice is a raucous duet with the ballsy Ms. Williams, which juxtaposes nicely with the later duets with Emmylou; particularly, Either Side of the Same Town, Heart Shaped Bruise and that song from Cold Mountain - The Scarlet Tide. Other highlights for me were the wilting Nothing Clings Like Ivy and the bitter The Name of This Thing is Not Love, which could have easily come from King of America or Blood & Chocolate, whilst The Judgement, which features one of Costello's most impassioned performances ("and he falls to his knees, 'have mercy on me', and he clings to the hem of her gown") is easily (like many of the songs here) one of the best things he's ever recorded.
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on 17 September 2004
Elvis costello has returned to form in a major way with this new album of songs recorded in the Southern States of the USA. It features vocal contributions from Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams and a whole clutch of new songs that are certain to be regarded as classics.
While a couple of songs, such as the opener "Button My Lip" and "Bedlam" fail to convince, there are many more songs like "Country Darkness", "Either Side of the Same Town" and "Monkey To Man" where the whole ensemble of the song, Elvis's voice and the performance of The Imposters really come together.
While the album has plenty of uptempo songs there are a couple of really mellow moments too, like "Nothing Clings Like Ivy" and "Heart Shaped Bruise", which have a bit of a country feel to them.
The album closes with a very simple arrangement of "The Scarlet Tide", which was originally performed by Alison Krauss for the Cold Mountain soundtrack and earned writers Elvis and T Bone Burnett an Oscar nomination. This time around it's a duet between Elvis and Emmylou Harris accompanied just by Elvis on Ukelele.
While last year's "North" was undoubtedly a downbeat classic, this is Elvis right back on track. If it was a couple of songs shorter it wouold have been unbeatable.
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VINE VOICEon 10 October 2005
I'm starting to think that EC isn't a single person but a collective, how else to explain the sheer mountain of great music he has produced over the years. On this record he has resuscitated the splenetic energy from his initial albums and welded it on to a roaring free jazz, country, rock thing. Aided and ably abetted by the Imposters, Emmylou Harris and a distinctly narky Lucinda Williams this is one of Elvis' best.
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on 30 September 2004
Easily the best thing Costello has done in a while. For those who like pigeonholes this is Elvis' two best works rolled into one -and about time too!! - King of America collides with Blood & Chocolate to produce a raucous yet melodious deep Southern party! Great duets - the one with Lucinda Williams has to be heard to be believed what an amazing voice Ms Williams has - well awesome. As for the title track....and every well played, well sung, well written & well produced song on this superlative collection. ELVIS IS KING!!!
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on 14 October 2004
From the early publicity surrounding Delivery Man, I thought I knew two things about it. One, that the American public had been thought too childish or too prone to righteous violence to be allowed to hear the apparent reference to suicide bombing in "Pulling Out the Pin", which was dropped from the US release. And two, that this is an album characterised by a pub-band-style rough and readiness. I'll say a bit about both preconceptions.
First the lyrical content. It is true that "Pulling Out the Pin" seems to refer to suicide bombing. It begins with a woman pulling a pin out of her hair, but this is just the first step in her preparation for an act of destruction involving the removal of another pin. EC is developing a taste for subverting the opening image of a song and telling a story with a twist, and in this respect "Pulling Out the Pin" works like the hostage-taking in "Radio Silence" on When I Was Cruel. Dropping it only shows the deep stupidity of the American (self-)censor. In a decision worthy of the old Soviet Union, the most obvious offending image has been suppressed while all the quietly dissenting stuff slips through.
"Monkey to Man", for example, the current single, talks of "flying bombs" and seems to be saying that 9/11 and its aftermath reveal the essential viciousness of humankind. What a waste of a species we are! The album opens with "Button My Lip", the first lines of which are "Don't want to talk about the government/Don't want to talk about some incident" - which one do you suppose that might be then?! Later in the same song we hear "It serves you right/now you are suffering" and the piano even delivers an ironic, broken version of "I like to be in America", the immigrant's song of praise to the land of the free from West Side Story. I could go on. These songs are full of lines that should offend a certain American opinion. Take, as a final example, a reworking of the nativity with Mary reduced to a wayward woman knocked up by someone other than her husband: "I've got this harlot that I'm stuck with carrying another man's child/The solitary star announcing vacancy burned out as we arrived".
But don't think this is a polemical album. There's no big thesis here, he certainly doesn't take sides, and the state of the world is really just the backdrop to a set of stories about troubled lives and failing loves. For every jab at America there is an attempt to reach out to it, most obviously through the music itself. EC draws on the roots of American music: blues, rock, and plenty of country. There's even a measure of jazz, which gives the drums and keyboards a prominence we don't often hear on an EC album. Steve Nieve clangs away at times or spirals, on "Bedlam", like Terry Riley's improvisations of the 60s.
Whatever it is, then, this isn't pub-style thrashing. It isn't even Blood and Chocolate, although some of the rougher textures may have fooled casual reviewers. On the contrary, this album is contrived, artful and controlled, almost to the point of showing off. And it has an exhilarating sense of purpose. If anything, it draws together the best of EC's various experiments. I'm very excited by it - can you tell?
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on 13 October 2004
Got very excited when I heard about the new Elvis album, pre-ordered it and waited patiently, eventually it arrived and went straight into the CD player, and...
Elvis, what in God's name have you done?! I hated it, it seemed to be all noise, distortion, screaming and some old bag lady pub singer he had dragged in to back him up on vocals on one track, I just couldn't believe it could be that bad.
Left it overnight, and that's the thing that kept going round in my head - I could NOT believe it was that bad. So maybe it wasn't. Time to do some extended listening.
I have been an EC fan since the mid 80's and have to say I have liked most of his stuff (not all). Nothing is as it seems with Elvis and you have to let his best material work it's way into the grey cells and see where it ends up before you really start to get a real return from it. It didn't take long for the work of genius that is Delivery Man get hold of areas of my brain that hadn't been so well rattled since EC released Blood and Chocolate. WOW!
For my money, this album is the closest EC has yet got to perfecting his massive wall of sound and love/hate/joy/pain. I could fill this page with things I like about it, from the concealed harmonics and double-tracked chorus vocals on tracks like Country Darkness, to that rocking guitar line and wailing banshee of a bag lady pub singer (the rabble-rousing Lucinda Williams) on There's a Story in Your Voice to the whacking great thump rock rhythms on Bedlam to the little laugh of Emmylou Harris at the start of the fabulous final track Scarlet Tide.
I have to say that I love this kind of melange, love the overriding American-ness of the music (sort of like King of America in places with the 50's influences and the diner-like feel to parts of it), as always I really love the rawness of Elvis's voice. We should hold him up as one of the world's truest and most honest songwriters and thank him for treating music with such absolute respect and writing songs that so deserve our undivided attention in a world of pop pap.
This is my kind of record, music to live life to, all shades and all colours are here. Definitely one for EC fans who date back to Punch the Clock, definitely one for fans of Almost Blue and a must have for anyone who enjoyed Blood and Chocolate as previously mentioned. Oh, and DEFINITELY one for the dogwalking MP3 player, it's Grrrrreat!
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on 10 October 2004
Country tinged to varying degrees. A good, solid album from Elvis Costello and what amount to the Attractions with a new bass player. The guest vocals help lend some country colour.Needle Time is a particular favourite, as is Nothing Clings Like Ivy.


I thought it would be worthwhile revisiting this review now that the novelty of the then new album has worn off.

I'd have to say that time has not been kind to this album, it's still sounds solid and professionally put together, but playing it today, it also sounds tired and a bit lazy. The country pastiche sounds formulaic and contrived. It certainly doesn't sound like a five star album anymore, more like a three star one. But I can't change the stars given then...

Truth is, none of the albums that Costello has released since When I Was Cruel impress me now. Too much muso and not enough passion.
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on 30 September 2004
I don't know why but I've never really "found" Costello....not until now. I've tried with other releases but never been more than inquisitive...until now. I bought this one on it's Americana sales blurb and lets face it...for Lucinda Williams. The songs are great and the storytelling is good too. Although it took a few listens to get to know the general layout of the musical map I'm slowly getting to really like it. For me the "slow starters" always end up being "the long distance winners". A really good CD. His voice is in brilliant form with a beautiful touch of "soul distorted nerve"...it melts like dark chocolate in the late summer sun. I might even buy the re-release of Blue now and go on from there. Anyway all you Costello freaks are gonna say "what took you so long" well I finally got there. Enjoy.
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on 2 October 2004
I heard lots of these tracks live in April when EC performed at the end of a tour in Bournemouth and found them haunting. So it is wonderful to hear them at last recorded and made permamanent. His voice is wonderful, as is Emmylou Harris' Great and meaningful lyrics and hummable tunes, terrific guitar work. I am listening to this all the time and it gets better with every hearing. Excellent concept!
Buy this album!!
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