What’s that line in Godfather III, just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in?
Elvis Costello is unquestionably one of the greatest songwriters in popular music history, and recent reissues of seminal works like This Year’s Model and Armed Forces have only validated that status. But revisiting these successes has only highlighted the fact that while his last couple of albums contain moments of brilliance, they fall short of recapturing the passion and wit of his heyday.
Enter his newest LP, The Boy Named If. Full of tight hooks, loud guitars, and an unflagging energy, it’s the best and most inspired Costello and the Imposters have sounded on a studio album since at least National Ransom in 2010.
While Costello’s previous two albums featured forays into jazz and baroque themes and played with production techniques to various degrees of success, The Boy Named If plays like a jolt of electricity. Opening track “Farewell, OK” is a fun rock and roller, while at various points tracks like “Mistook for a Friend” and “Magnificent Hurt” conjure up memories of his own “Pump it Up” (or perhaps pop star Olivia Rodrigo’s “brutal”). But in echoing the structures and sounds of his previous work, Costello seems less interested in reliving his past than in reinterpreting it to new effect. Gone is the wound-up neuroticism of his youth; in its place is a sense of purpose and playfulness.
Elsewhere, “Penelope Halfpenny” pushes Costello’s Beatles influence to the forefront, resulting in a bright pop-rock gem. “Paint the Red Rose Blue” is a stately ballad bolstered by one of his finest, most subtle vocal performances to date.
This record concludes a flurry of activity for Costello in recent years. Including the 2021 Spanish-language remix and re-recording of This Year’s Model, it’s his fourth full-length album in four years. With The Boy Named If, he’s saved the best of them all for last.