ELVIS COSTELLO: Hey Clockface (Concord)
Verdict: perfectly timed
The musicians who flourished in the lockout were quick and flexible. Jon Bon Jovi provided an update on the evolution of events on his new 2020 album.
Charli XCX poured midlife frustrations into How I Feel Now. Kate Rusby and Molly Tuttle have delivered home blanket collections.
Elvis Costello has also been on foot, with his new album mounted on the shoe in different places.
After flying to Helsinki in February, he then flew to Paris just before the lockout for a studio weekend with local jazz luminaries.
Hey Clockface was produced remotely – “over an electric wire” – with a New York-based band.
Elvis Costello was also the fleet of the foot, with his new album assembled on the hoof in different locations
The result is a record of stark contrasts, especially between sawtooth Scandinavian songs and softer Parisian tunes, and there are times when the haphazardly scattered tracks give Hey Clockface a rambling feel: the edgy Hetty O ‘Hara Confidential, recorded in Finland is sandwiched between two perfect piano ballads on the banks of the Seine.
But Costello, 66, remains a master songwriter. This album, co-produced with Argentine studio genius Sebastian Krys, is less polished than the lush Look Now of 2018, but it reiterates the breadth of his talent.
“I wanted the record to be alive, for the songs to require loud and jagged reading or intimate and beautiful,” he says.
The three songs cut in Helsinki will appeal to fans raised on This Year’s Model, Costello’s 1978 album that channeled the energy of punk.
In addition to Hetty O’Hara Confidential – the story of an old-school Fleet Street gossip columnist whose star is on the wane – her three days in Finland resulted in No Flag and We Are All Cowards Now, both dark and threatening.
With Elvis playing guitar, bass, drums and Hammond organ in the spirit of Paul McCartney’s famous two solo albums, Helsinki songs are punctuated with distorted chords, sound effects from sci-fi and wry humor: ‘At least Emperor Nero had an ear for music,’ reads a line on We Are All Cowards Now.
After flying to Helsinki in February, he then flew straight to Paris just before the lockdown for a studio weekend with local jazz luminaries.
The nine Parisian songs, performed with an ensemble called Le Quintette Saint Germain, are in turn playful and tinged with regret.
The title song, on the choice of an argument over time, opens with the animated trumpet of Mickaël Gasche and is strongly based on the standard of Fats Waller How Can You Face Me?
The flippancy I Can’t Say Her Name wouldn’t be out of place on a Randy Newman album … or even that of Costello’s wife, jazz singer Diana Krall.
Emotion comes over a series of chamber pop ballads, with pianist Steve Nieve augmented by clarinet and cello on The Whirlwind and the tenderly sung Byline.
Other twists occur in the Arabic instrumentation of Revolution # 49 and the flute, sax and English horn of Renaud-Gabriel Pion.
The two New York songs fall between the Finnish and French extremes to give a more complete picture.
Completed online with trumpeter Michael Leonhart and others, the funky diary flap and spoken word poem Radio Is Everything is atmospheric and contemporary.
“They say I have a perfect radio face,” Costello says of the latter. The singer – who performed with the writing “ Helsinki-Paris-New York ” on the album cover, as if it were a cosmetics brand or an advertising agency – retains also the talent to write perfect songs that pack an emotional punch, regardless of their hometown.
SAM SMITH: Love Goes (Capitol)
Verdict: edifying return
Sam Smith looks back on the dance-pop of early associations with Disclosure (Latch) and Naughty Boy (La La La) on a new album that has been in preparation for three years.
Less reliant on ballads than 2017’s The Thrill Of It All, Love Goes takes its blue-eyed soul cues from Promises, a 2019 single made with Scottish DJ Calvin Harris.
The Cambridgeshire singer, 28, was released last year as non-binary; and the opening a capella song Young makes broader remarks on the importance of making your own choices: “If you want to judge me, then go load the gun.”
“I haven’t done anything wrong, I’m young.
Sam Smith looks back on the dance-pop of early associations with Disclosure (Latch) and Naughty Boy (La La La) on a new album that has been in the works for three years
“ I tried not to take myself too seriously while writing these songs, ” says Smith, and a lighter touch is apparent on the house number à la Robyn Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else) and My Oasis: Co-written with long-term collaborator Jimmy Napes, the latter is an electronic duet with Nigerian singer Burna Boy.
Despite a high-octane kiss to an ancient flame in Diamonds, some generic heartache ballads slow the momentum down.
The best of slow tunes is For The Lover That I Lost: written by Smith, Napes and the Norwegian duo Stargate for a Celine Dion album, it is resurrected here as a simple piano piece.
The Cambridgeshire singer, 28, was released last year as non-binary; and the opening song a capella Young makes broader observations on the importance of making your own choices: “If you want to judge me, then go load the gun.” I haven’t done anything wrong I’m young
No modern pop album is complete without a song by Ryan Tedder – and Love Goes is no exception.
The OneRepublic singer recently worked with John Legend, Lady Gaga and Brazilian pop sensation Anitta.
The latest co-writing, Kids Again, is an acoustic number about the fading of youth that throws Smith in a new musical light.
MISCELLANEOUS: Song Club (Songwriter’s Garden)
Verdict: Diverse charitable collection
Chris Difford of Squeeze was so moved by the photos taken by NHS nurse Hannah Grace Deller when he saw her on Grayson Perry’s TV show that he reached out to other musicians to set his experiences to music frontline.
The result is a diverse charity record, hosted by Difford, featuring lockdown-inspired songs by Nick Heyward, Beth Nielsen Chapman and others.
Generous wit, it’s also surprisingly witty on Nielsen Chapman and Bill Lloyd’s Sick Of The Sight Of You.
There’s a folk tinge to Kathryn Williams’ Hannah Takes Pictures and a country twist to actress Jessie Buckley’s Working On The Frontline.
There’s even a Deller cameo on the Six Degrees piano piece. Proceeds go to the Royal College Of Nursing Foundation (rcnfoundation.org.uk).
Busy Ariana is in a Great Position …
Ariana Grande has barely stopped to catch her breath since returning to music with her album Sweetener in 2018.
Last year saw her debut live album, K Bye For Now, and duets with Childish Gambino, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.
She is now back with solo material, releasing the title track from the sixth album Positions as a single. Recorded in quarantine, the song is a slyly addicting empowerment anthem that sticks to the slow-burning R&B model of Thank U, Next from 2019.
Ariana Grande has barely stopped to breathe since returning to music with her album Sweetener in 2018
London singer Raissa also has a new track in the haunting pop number Crowded. Signed to Mark Ronson’s Zelig label – she was the singer on Ronson’s cover of I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight – she is a name to watch.
Jake Bugg continues his estrangement from the teenage skiffle on All I Need. An ironic number on the life of the present moment, it presents the gospel support of the choir Urban Flames.
And Crowded House is back with their first single in ten years.
Fresh out on tour as one of Lindsey Buckingham’s replacements in Fleetwood Mac, frontman Neil Finn has added sons Liam and Elroy to the lineup on the Whatever You Want Carrier.
The group is due to visit the UK next June.