Elvis Costello Pumps It Up on ‘The Boy Named If’: Review

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During his long career, Elvis Costello has dabbled in everything from mainstream pop and baroque classical music to punk and country. These days, though, he seems to be harkening back to his early years. The terrific recent Spanish Model found him adding Latin vocalists to the instrumentation on his original 1978 second album. Now comes The Boy Named If, a mostly hard-rocking entry that seems at times as if it could have appeared right before or after that sophomore effort.

So-called new-wave rock may now be old, but the music on this January 2022 release sounds pumped up and fresh. Costello is in fine form and so is his backup band, the Imposters, whose ranks include original Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas, plus Davey Faragher, Costello’s bassist since 1991.

Evidence of the singer’s love of words is omnipresent on The Boy Named If, and not just on the record, whose densely packed, sometimes abstruse verses come loaded with wordplay: a deluxe version of the album adds a 78-page book called The Boy Named If and Other Children’s Tales that—along with Costello’s illustrations and lyrics to the tunes—includes short-short stories that don’t always seem to have much to do with the music. Subjects of the songs and stories range from broken hearts and illicit sex to lies and violence.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Costello’s Trust

To these ears, the material and performances on The Boy Called If aren’t consistently strong enough to rank the album with Costello’s best. However, this record demonstrates that he remains well worthy of attention. His band still cooks. And his trademark vocals and colorful vignettes continue to fascinate, especially on high points like “Mr. Crescent,” which he describes as the tale of an “exiled scoundrel [who] looks back on his petty crimes and unforgivable sins”; and “Paint the Red Rose Blue,” which he says is “a tale of a bereft couple learning to trust in love again.” 

Tickets to see Costello perform are available
here and here

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