If you just woke up from a 20-year sleep and remembered only a few melodies from some post-punk lyricist named Elvis in the charts at the start of the '80s, you might learn a lot about what was going on while you were asleep from Costello's new album.
Seven years after his last solo album, "When I Was Cruel," Costello is full of energy, thrashing about and in a sneer-'n'-leer mood. The days of collaborations with Paul McCartney and dalliances with string quartets and opera singers seem to be over for now.
Costello is now as original as ever, flexing between Frank Black-like arrangements, Tom Waits disharmony and Cake narratives. Previously, Costello added a political twist and was anti-Thatcher or pro-Mandela. Now, however, Costello is traveling the road of general existential dilemmas: "Hang my head and shut my eyes, I can't see justice twisted," he sings in "Soul for Hire."
Moments of refreshing sweetness are few. "It was so much easier when I was cruel," Costello remarks. "My Little Blue Window," is tenderly melodious, while the jazzy, trumpet-filled "15 Petals" is romantic. All other attempts at softness are overpowered by the bitterness in Costello's words. "Dissolve" is perhaps the harshest track and sounds like Costello has been paying close attention to Joe Spencer.
Accumulating some of the best on offer from this musical niche, this profound album is worth waking up for - even if you haven't been asleep for 20 years.