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'Look Now' review: Elvis Costello returns to peak form  

Elvis Costello & The Imposters' "Look Now."

Elvis Costello & The Imposters' "Look Now." Credit: Concord

ELVIS COSTELLO & THE IMPOSTERS

"Look Now"

BOTTOM LINE Costello bounces back from a health scare with an album brimming with new life.

Elvis Costello had already finished his new album, “Look Now” (Concord), his first with The Imposters in a decade, before he had to undergo surgery earlier this year to remove “a small, but very aggressive cancerous malignancy.”

But he really does sound like a man enjoying life, returning to peak form as a songwriter, telling tales about leaving behind bad situations and celebrating good ones. And Costello is using a broader sonic spectrum to bring those stories to life.

The opener, “Under Lime,” harks back to Costello circa “Imperial Bedroom,” the album he was showcasing on tour when he began work on “Look Now.” He teams up again with Burt Bacharach for the gorgeous ballad “Don’t Look Now,” calling to mind their underappreciated 1998 classic “Painted from Memory.” “Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter,” a collaboration with Carole King, is a brilliant clash of 1977, putting languid verses of disco gloss next to multi-syllabic bridges of new wave intensity. There are also moments of Daptone-soul (“Unwanted Number”) and the grandest of Britpop on the lament “I Let the Sun Go Down.”  

While Costello would normally spend entire albums focusing on one of these styles, it’s actually thrilling to hear all of them jockey for attention on the same album. The single “Suspect My Tears” is one of Costello’s best songs in years, with its nods to ‘70s soul punctuated by an unexpected falsetto and a string section that goes rogue at the end to demonstrate the song’s theme of what happens when “two hypocrites collide.”

“You always promised to lose control,” Costello croons before declaring, “I learned a trick that you used to play . . . I’ll cry until you suspect my tears.”

With a career as solid as Costello’s, it’s easy to take his dependable quality for granted. “Look Now” is a stunning reminder of how lucky we are to still have him around.

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