Latest from Elvis Costello, Kristin Hersh make for welcome returns
Elvis Costello and the Imposters — ‘Look Now’
THE GOOD: Elvis Costello gets back to making albums and working with long-time collaborators the Imposters (the Attractions with a slightly different lineup).
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The bulk of the material comes from a couple of abandoned musical theater projects and a handful of random songs written over the past decade. Other than three songs co-written with Burt Bacharach and one with Carole King, everything was penned by Costello alone. Since “Look Now” hails from different sources, it shouldn’t work as a cohesive album, yet it does.
That’s probably because of the man reuniting with the Imposters. Costello hasn’t made a straight-up pop/rock album in about a decade, and this welcome return to form proves the 64-year-old still shines in this realm. Whether it’s the melancholy “Stripping Paper,” soulful rocker “Unwanted Number” or graceful “I Let the Sun Go Down,” Costello remains a master singer/songwriter. And the guy is always at his best when fronting a band — especially THIS band.
BUY IT?: Yes.
Kristin Hersh — ‘Possible Dust Clouds’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter and Throwing Muses frontwoman (not saying “ex,” because they tend to reform now and then) Kristin Hersh is back with her 10th solo outing.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: When the woman flies solo, her records are usually lighter fare — intimate indie rock with definite shades of modern folk. “Dust Clouds,” on the other hand, possesses some genuine rock teeth. Right at the start, we’re smacked dead square in the mouth with the one-two, rough-and-ready punch of “LAX” and “No Shade in Shadow.” There’s a pronounced murkiness to these proceedings, with many songs drenched in fuzzed-out electric guitar haze. Hersh doesn’t shy away from lots of volume, and the songs benefit.
Crashing drums play off grinding basslines below while grungy guitars boil over above. Hersh sounds ragged, spent and, at times, frustrated. Yet she doesn’t sound out of place while getting loud, low down and dirty. “Dust Clouds” ends up aggressive and truly exciting.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
Echo and the Bunnymen —
‘The Stars, the Oceans & the Moon’
THE GOOD: British post-punk legends Echo & the Bunnymen come back with their 13th studio outing.
THE BAD: Most of “The Stars” seems pointless.
THE NITTY GRITTY: We get two new songs and 13 “re-workings” of old classics. Why? According to frontman Ian McCulloch, it’s to “make the songs better.” Better than what? The originals were just fine.
That’s not to say these new takes are BAD, but again, I wouldn’t expect this from a band that returns every few years with a string of better-than-average new albums. Classic rock dinosaurs, not Echo & the Bunnymen, do stuff like this. So “The Stars” feels not only like a watery rehash but also a missed opportunity.
The two new songs, “The Somnambulist” and “How Far,” find McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant in fine form. Eight more fresh tracks would have been much more satisfying than the stripped-down retakes of “Seven Seas” or “The Killing Moon.”
BUY IT?: No. “The Stars” is for obsessive diehards only.