Well, I realize that it's a little late in the game to be reviewing albums that came out months ago, but I received the album for christmas, listened to it a bit, and I am finally beginning to feel like I have a handle on it. So please permit me this long-winded review of an album that hasn't gotten a whole lot of attention.
I should explain that I'm rather a fan of Elvis Costello in general. I think he's brilliant, and I like his voice (both his written voice and the voice in my ear). I'll admit, though, that his writing is often pretty ambiguous, and I have a hard time figuring it out.
Perhaps one of the best articles I've ever read about Costello is David Dark's in Books and Culture after When I Was Cruel came out. David Dark is a writer/critic I respect a lot, and listening to the Delivery Man through the lens (to mix metaphors) of Dark's Everyday Apocalypse has influenced the way I understand it.
Most critics I have found in a quick google search do not focus so much on the meaning of the album. They say things like "Costello is back to the rocking out we know and love. woo!" or "another album of typical Elvis Costello songs... whatev." I was hoping these critics would help me out figuring out what "Button My Lip" is about, and they are either dead wrong or don't even adress it. Lame. So here's what I think about the album:
With a return to raucous rock, Costello also returns to his favorite themes: social criticism, brokenheartedness, loneliness, fame. He also continues his penchant for collaboration, with some initially jarring but later pleasing duets with Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris.
The social critisicm in The Delivery Man isn't as biting and obvious as, say "radio radio" but is indeed still there. "Button My Lip," I have decided, is about the US government limiting free speech (patriot act anyone?) Hint: bits of Bernstein's "America" in the paino. "Either Side of the Same Town" may be about political polarity, although I'm hesitant to make things too US-centric.
Nobody does betrayal like Elvis Costello, and he's got a couple of heart-wrenchers on this album too. "Nothing Clings Like Ivy" and "This Heartshaped Bruise" get to be extra poignant thanks to miss Emmylou.
The Most interesting thread, probably, in this album is the religious one. I haven't seen too much religious thought in Costello's previous work, although perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough. This one, though, throws around references to Jesus, and sometimes speaks in the Apocalyptic mode David Dark is so fond of exposing. "There's a Story in Your Voice" captures the apocalyptic vision pretty well: "There's a story in your voice/both by damage and by choice/tells of promises and pleasure/ and a tale of wine and woe/ the uneasy time to come/ and the long way round we go to get there." Look at that! It's all there! embracing story and the reality of sadness, but also offering radical hope.
And there's references to Jesus on this album too, unusual in Costello's work, as I recall. And certainly interesting. "The Delivery Man" is, I think, also about the delivery of apocalyptic art. "In a certain light he looks like Elvis/ in a certain way he seems like Jesus" the chorus repeats. and the delivery man, I think, repeats (humbly) the word of hope to hurting people. Hmmm....
I'm not real sure what's going on in "Bedlam" yet, but I think it's significant.
Does anyone else have this cd and want to talk about it? It's in general reccomended for Costello fans. Costello albums grow on me and stick with me, and this one is no exception. Plus it's got a disclaimer above the FBI warning that says "this artist does not endorse the following warning, the FBI doesn't have his home phone number and he hopes they don't have yours" How cool is that?