Elvis Costello ‘Hey Clockface’ Review: Intimate album glows with gorgeous melodies and heart-wrenching lyrics
Active since the 70’s, English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello boasts an extensive discography in the form of solo, live, collaborative and tribute albums. The 66-year-old Grammy award-winning musician has now released his 31st studio album, ‘Hey Clockface’, via Concord Records. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee is usually known for his new wave, power rock and punk rock style. The much-celebrated artiste has also been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for ‘The Scarlet Tide’ from ‘Cold Mountain’ along with T-Bone Burnett.
Costello’s new album, ‘Hey Clockface’, is a follow-up to his 2018 project ‘Look Now’ and comes packed with a total of 14 tracks along with a bonus single, ‘Phonographic Memory’. The brand new album opens with a 2.41-minute track, ‘Revolution #49’. Costello has given a very unusual and a very rare opening to his album. In the very first minute, all you will hear is experimental Arabic sounds mingled with strings and percussion which will take you in a trance and after a minute, Costello’s monologue in his typical baritone voice will keep you hooked till the end.
In the spoken word, he repeats the line “love is the one thing we can save” constantly as if he wants us to get hypnotized with it. ‘No Flag’ is the second track from the album which starts on a very grimy note but soon the guitars kick in along with Costello’s vocals, “No time for this kind of love/No flag waving high above/No sign for the dark place that I live/No God for the damn that I don't give/I've got no illusions, I've had no epiphany/Why should anybody listen to me.” The background score might irritate you a little but the singer’s voice does save the song.
Costello then jumps to ‘They're Not Laughing at Me Now’ which runs for 4.26 minutes. The third song bends on the acoustic side and is a slow number for a perfectly lazy day. The drums kick-in occasionally but the guitar strums continue all the way till the end of the song. The track has a lot of twists and turns as it changes its pace unexpectedly in different places. ‘Newspaper Pane’ is a reminder of why Costello was one of the greatest singer-songwriters to emerge from Britain in the 1980’s. The song does take us to that era with similar sounds of rock and roll. The lyrics go like, “To keep out the nonsense, And block out the needing/To keep up her spirits, With improving reading/But the ink from the columns, Dissolved down into the stain/On the bare wood floor, That extended to the door.” Also, do wait for the brief introduction of the trumpets when the song nears the end. In ‘I Do (Zula's Song),’ Costello goes real slow but perfectly in sync with the piano, brass and strings and this song will take you further back to 50’s and 60’s with minimal but effective sounds.
Five songs into the album and we know how experimental Costello has gone in ‘Hey Clockface’ without any pressure from his previous projects. ‘We Are All Cowards Now’ falls next in the queue and runs for 3.36 minutes. This one feels like a perfect background score for a James Bond movie - it gets as classy as it can be. Costello’s smooth voice jams with minimal guitars, claps and distant piano sounds.
The title track of the album, ‘Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me?’ is completely different from the previous one. This one might make you groove a little but won’t allow you to dance. Continuing the run from his previous songs, Costella still makes sure we get transported all the way back to the golden era of 60’s and 70’s in Paris. This one sounds really French. ‘The Whirlwind’ is a piano ballad with delicious cello counterpoint and brass interpolations. Costello then completely changes the wood with a peppy ‘Hetty O'Hara Confidential’ packed with experimental sounds.
The rock music gets very little treatment here as the electronic mixed sounds take over. Definitely a big change from what we heard in the album so far. Speaking in an official statement about the recording process, Costello revealed, “I sang live on the studio floor, directing from the vocal booth. We cut nine songs in two days. We spoke very little. Almost everything the musicians played was a spontaneous response to the song I was singing. I’d had a dream of recording in Paris like this, one day.”
Next in the line is ‘The Last Confession of Vivian Whip’ which makes us realise that Costello should have given a thought of placing his songs at the right place. We say this because he started with Arabic sounds and then he took us on a retro ride and then he placed a jagged rap in ‘Hetty O’Hara Confidential’ and then he again goes back to retro and almost hymn-like quality with ‘The Last Confession of Vivian Whip’ which ends up spoiling the mood.
‘What Is It That I Need That I Don’t Already Have?’ is a beautiful infused melody which you would love to hear with your loved one while doing nothing but staring at the bleeding moon from a huge window. The song sticks to minimal background score till the end and that’s the beauty of it. ‘Radio Is Everything’ is probably what we have been waiting for in the entire album. The baritone monologue of Costello makes a comeback with gorgeous melodies lighting up the song in the background. Costello maintains the pitch of his spoken word throughout the song and the trumpets wait eagerly for us almost at the end which will probably brighten up your dull day.
‘I Can’t Say Her Name’ is a nostalgic soft shuffle while ‘Byline’ which closes the album is again an ode to the old-school romance. The 2.40-minute song has been crafted meticulously infused with piano and strings. The song doesn’t stand out from what we have already heard in the album but we can’t miss it either. The album also entertains one bonus single called ‘Phonographic Memory’ and we are glad we again get to hear Costello’s baritone voice on the spoken word. His heavy voice opens the track with simple guitar strumming all along. “We have not come so much to a fork in the road, As a fork on the plate, Scraping the last lick off the gravy train of history/There was nervous laughter round from the dais, That rolled outwards through the crowd/On a breeze that rustled flags and banners.” Instead of ‘Byline’, ‘Phonographic Memory’ should have been the last track of the album as it sums up the entire vibe of the new project.
In a nutshell, ‘Hey Clockface’ is not for everybody and those who follow Costello’s music will surely love this one for its textures, ode to minimal yet experimental sounds and heart-wrenching lyrics. ‘Hey Clockface’ was recorded in Helsinki, Paris and New York and mixed by Sebastian Krys in Los Angeles. You can stream the brand new album here.