Indoor Fireworks

In ABBA's old studio, Elvis Costello and Anne Sofie von Otter reinterpret pop music history

"'Like An Angel Passing Through My Room,' is very, very beautiful," von Otter says. "And that's almost a little bit like a classical song, somehow, in the way it's been written and built up. That's a favorite of mine."

For his part, Costello believes von Otter's contribution to the disc goes beyond what she did when she was in the vocal booth. Even going so far as to give her unofficial songwriting credits for most of the songs he wrote for the album.

"Certainly 'Shamed Into Love,' 'I Want to Vanish' and 'This House is Empty Now,' although they all have my name on them in different parts of the writing, they were all Anne Sofie's idea to record those," Costello says. "She had picked those and a number of the other songs. And obviously, she introduced me to the Fleshquartet, who are a Swedish group and are very important to the record. So there's quite a lot of music coming from her background, you know, from her part of the world. And we recorded the record in Sweden. So in the end, rather than it being something that I presented her with completely formed, it was a proper collaboration. Not in writing this time, but in choices: choices of instrumentation, choices of venue, choices of musical background. She's really been instrumental in four songs coming into existence. You know, they wouldn't have been written without this record."

Elvis Costello and Anne Sofie von Otter laugh at Costello's latest hat during a break from the recording of For the Stars.
Mats Backer/DG
Elvis Costello and Anne Sofie von Otter laugh at Costello's latest hat during a break from the recording of For the Stars.

But Costello is quick to point out that For the Stars is more than an excuse to get von Otter in front of more people, to get these songs near more ears. It's an album, a good one, one he was proud to make. Simple as that.

"It's great if you can do that, as a side effect," he says. "The main concern was really to choose material that would most suit Anne Sofie, and that she would enjoy doing, and she'd feel she'd done something that was fresh for her, you know, that was a world away from the other music that she sings, but very enjoyable nevertheless. I think that we tended to try and avoid songs that were really worn out. Even when we chose a Paul McCartney song or a Lennon and McCartney song, 'For No One' is somewhat less well-known than, say, 'Yesterday.' It's relative, you know? Most of the songs on the record, we didn't deliberately choose them to be obscure, but there didn't seem a whole lot of point in doing a song that was so familiar and has been done a thousand times. It's really a struggle for people to hear it fresh. They can't help but say, 'Well, it's good...but it's not as good as when Ella Fitzgerald sang it.'"

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