Elvis Costello isn't just still in vogue. He's just released his best album to date. On the release of The Boy Named If (And Other Children's Stories), it's impossible not to draw up a chair and listen with intuitive respect at the wonderment.
Not now, not at 65 and certainly not when the entire record was composed and listened to far away from those Imposters of his, otherwise known as one of the world's greatest backing bands.
Because they have been playing together for so long, the album resonates with familiarity and togetherness. It's as if they were all in the one room, slamming it out with someone at the other end of the studio booth.
The record is written like a single performance against an idea, extending from his attempt to get to know the vibrant, as-yet-unexplored world of imaginary friends.
Crumbling through a zoom call, leaning in with passion and commitment as he explained the process, the excitement is real, his passion no less - perhaps more than it has ever been.
"You know, I never actually had an imaginary friend," he says. "So I am imagining the imaginary friend, but I know they exist. And when they brought me up as a young Catholic boy, I was told I had a Guardian Angel. You know, that was supposed to be keeping you from doing the bad stuff that other kids blamed imaginary friend for."
It's a true COVID-19 album, in the best sense, made in the same conditions many lock-down explorers have been through. Think of the passionate moments of release, when thoughtful folk began to question why life ever needed to be the way it was.
"It must have been cycling around some of these thoughts about leaving, childhood, wonder and innocence and imagination, and the ability to dance and sing and skip," he says.
"And, you know, invent fantastic things that only Leonardo da Vincis do. Like fantastic machines and things, all of the things you can do in your childhood that you become quickly too self-conscious to do when you're gripped with carnal desire as a teenager."
Effectively putting himself in an author's mindset, detailing the characters in his head, and blasting them out with force, the drive behind this creation is obvious.
"Therefore, we catch up with some characters along the way that you know, are part of this somehow. A woman who's based on a teacher I had. Not obviously," he says. "Not that person, but a romanticised version of her. The sort of person who comes into your life, that you're not so much having desire for them, but curiosity about a life that she suggests."
Dipping back in to a common experience, "I have this teacher who seemed to have stumbled into teaching from some other kind of life that she might have rather been in...being a crime reporter and Korean espionage. She had ended up teaching English to a bunch of, you know, indifferent teenagers.
"But it was the fact that she talked about her own life, and that she was a real flesh-and-blood person with a fashionable style as opposed to a person covered in chalk dust who was prematurely middle-aged. That was like a door to a party that we could never go into. So that's why I wrote that song... everything she suggested was just out of reach."
And then of course we have the man you love to hate, who appeared in Costello's thoughts because there was a wrestler in his youth who shared his family name.
"It drove my whole family mad that we were constantly asked if we were related to him," he says. "He was called the Dulwich Destroyer, whose tag line was 'The Man You Love to Hate'."
Creatively, Costello has been pulsing. He has shed weight as a musical thinker, and the magic of creativity shivers through his discussion of the album's composition.
"Because it was written sort of quite close together, I suppose I have a guitar in my hand and put it down," he says.
"I had been writing songs of the previous couple of years at the piano - that colours it differently and tends to make the songs more slow mid-tempo. I think it's much easier to write cliche with the guitar, because you don't go to the same patterns."
Born from the immediate need to keep himself limber, drummer Pete Thomas next caught up with the leading man to talk shop. Having played through all of their records, some Motown hits, and the entire Beatles catalogue, "He likes to play all the time," Costello says.
"He has this wonderful old Gretsch kit that he played on, this year's model, in his basement, and plays every day for hours."
Sending him a song to listen to, without any idea of what was to come, "Within an hour, he sent it back to me with drums on it."
Despite the process, with everybody doing their parts separately, the record sounds alive. Costello credits co-producer Sebastian Krys for stitching in the component parts.
But the rest remains the musician's responsibility. In a brand new context - everything was possible.
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