I almost dismissed Elvis Costello's latest release after first hearing it. Thankfully I did not, as this album grows on me with every listen. As a long-standing fan of the great Declan MacManus, who is one of my favourite lyricists of all time, I am filled with trepidation when I hear that he is due to release something new...I just don't want him to disappoint me. Like he did with the flaccid, bland collaborative output with Burt Bacharach...sad that two such wonderful songwriters didn't manage a higher standard together.
I bargained for being disappointed by Momofuku - Costello is now 53 and most people just can't keep up the whole 'pithy punk' ethos for all those years, plus his more recent work has definitely been something of a let down. I certainly expected a mellower chap, although I hadn't made my mind up that this would be necessarily a bad thing.
Momofuku is by no stretch Costello's best work, but nor is it any kind of embarrassment to him. The sound is back on form, old-school Elvis. In addition to the regular Imposters this album features, amongst others, Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice, as well as Imposter Dave Thomas' daughter Tennessee, who drums with The Like. The lyrics to Song With Rose were written collaboratively with Rosanne Cash and the title of Pardon Me Madam, My Name Is Eve was given to Costello by Loretta Lynn during a previous writing session together. The lyrics, however, the very thing that has always drawn me most to his songs, are simply not as insightful, incisive and idiosyncratic as I would like or would have hoped for.
Perhaps this results from the fact that Momofuku was done and dusted in little over a week. The name of the album is, in fact, a nod to how quickly the whole thing was completed - it is named after Momofuku Ando, the inventor of the cup noodle! Costello says on his website "all we had to do to make this record was add water". Considering this, Momofuku is really something of an achievement, although it would seem to me that this brief process did not give enough time for Costello's lyrics to fully bed in and flower.
The initial standout track on this album is, for me, American Gangster Time. I suspect that this is because it sounds most akin to Costello in his prime...in fact, I don't think that it would sound out of place on his Girls, Girls, Girls compilation (a great starting point if you are not yet an Elvis Costello fan). It is, however, album opener No Hiding Place, along with Pardon Me Madam, My Name Is Eve, that keeps running around in my head. For some reason, so does New Lace Sleeves from Costello's 1981 album Trust; there must be a track here that reminds me of it, but I'm damned if I can figure out which one it is just yet!
Most of the songs here are well worth a listen, with early high points for me being No Hiding Place (although I am suspicious of the fact that it contains the line "set alight your effigy", which is curiously similar to "burn a broken effigy of me and you" from Mr Costello's 1986 song Indoor Fireworks), Drum and Bone, Flutter and Wow, Stella Hurt (which features the best lyrics of the album, the fabulously assonant "the night is black as cracked shellac") and Pardon me Madam, My Name Is Eve. That's the majority of the album then! I am undecided, thus far, on Harry Worth, and I am definitely decided on My Three Sons...to be avoided! The latter is the definitive low point of what is generally a bit of a return to form...it is cloying and too overtly sentimental for my liking. It just makes me miss Elvis Costello, king of the acerbic, biting lyric all the more. It falls way short of, for example, Beautiful Boy and doesn't really serve to add anything above and beyond the bathetic proud-daddedness of Paul Simon's Father and Daughter.
Momofuku, whilst not rivalling Elvis Costello's best output, is without doubt worth your time and money. And I reckon that it has more staying power than I initially gave it credit for.
Read Elvis Costello talking about the making of Momofuku here.
Buy it on vinyl.
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