Elvis Costello & the Impostors

Pardon, if you will, but the bliss is almost too much to bear—and that's before the needle greets the record. (Ah, yes, right: "needle" and "record." Children, do ask your grandparents.) Costello—still ignoring the expiration date stamped "1986," the date of his most, ahem, recent must-own—has finally rushed to market two discs of unfortunately titled gatefold black vinyl here, into the grooves of which he's imparted a groove. This is especially true of the first track on Side Two of the two-fer: the slinky "Harry Worth," featuring the coos and ahhhs of Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis and other special guests, over which E.C. reminds, "It's not very far from tears to mirth/It's not many moments that will capture your breath." This is one of them.

Shorn of too-good-to-rock novelties (string-quartet yawns, N'awlins nods, Bacharach blues, etc.) and absent the trying-too-hard missteps, Costello hasn't sounded so refreshed, relaxed, engaged or enraged in years; same goes for Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, who remain the main Attractions alongside Impostor Davey Faragher. It almost plays like a career retrospective in 12-song miniature, with the sneering, no-wave Elvis ("American Gangster Time," "No Hiding Place") commingling with the catchy, country Costello ("Song with Rose," co-written with Rosanne Cash; "Pardon Me, Madam, My Name is Eve," a Loretta Lynn co-write) hanging with the Tin Pan Alley Declan (the bouncy, brash "Mr. Feathers") with his arm draped over the mighty-like-a-McManus ("Turpentine," which sounds like a Spike outtake, for better or, more likely, worse)—and all of 'em on their way to 1980, back when Costello's idea of a throwaway was the Taking Liberties, the punk. This should have been the record titled The Delivery Man.