Elvis Costello & the Imposters

Elvis Costello's never shied away from making genre records--there is a country one (Almost Blue), a fake-classical one (The Juliet Letters), an easy-listening one (Painted From Memory, with Burt Bacharach), even a crappy piano-bar one (last year's North). Remarkably, he has shied away from sounding like a dilettante; his enthusiasm as a longtime musical omnivore has often filled whatever holes riddle his knowledge and ability. One of Costello's two new albums, Il Sogno, is a classical setting of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which everyone sounds like a dilettante doing; the other, The Delivery Man, is a down-and-dirty rock album, recorded in Oxford, Mississippi, and released by the alt-country label Lost Highway. Like 2002's taut, cranky When I Was Cruel, it features Costello seething over curdled love and rampant dishonesty, as well as funky drum and guitar tones that make the instruments sound like they're caked in mud. (This is a good thing.) But Delivery is haunted by a look-kids-I-can-still-rock quality Costello's been avoiding since the early '90s, when he first started actively seeking the approval of the culture barons who once feared vinegary dispatches like "Radio Radio." "Now the world is full of sorrow and pain," he sings in "Monkey to Man," "and it's time for us to speak up again." A little louder, please?

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Mikael Wood