Elvis Costello has announced a new album, “Hey Clockface,” to come out Oct. 30, recorded partly — but not entirely — before the pandemic. The midnight announcement was accompanied by the release of a third song from the album, “We Are All Cowards Now,” joining a pair of songs released earlier this summer that are now known to not just be one-offs.
Of Costello’s longtime backup group, the Imposters, only Steve Nieve is present, as he recorded with different ensembles in Paris, Helsinki and New York during time away from touring duties. He is joined, however, by another alumnus of “Look Now,” the Grammy-winning album he did with the Imposters two years ago — co-producer Sebastian Krys, who, apart from his work with Costello, is best known for his work with Latin superstars.
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“I wanted the record to be vivid, whether the songs demanded playing that was loud and jagged or intimate and beautiful,” Costello said in announcing the project.
“We Are All Cowards” now is, like the two singles that preceded it — “No Flag” and “Hetty O’Hara Confidential” — a solo recording that was put down at Suomenlinnan Studio in Helsinki in February of this year. But these three songs may not indicate a complete sonic direction for the album, as the rest of the numbers to come are band tracks.
After leaving Helsinki, Costello headed to Paris for a weekend of sessions at Les Studios Saint Germain. There, he worked with a group he dubbed “Le Quintette Saint Germain,” with Nieve — who assembled the ensemble for Costello and played his usual array of keyboards — joined by Mickaél Gasche on trumpet, flugel horn and serpent, Pierre-François “Titi” Dufour on cello, reed player Renaud-Gabriel Pion, and drums and percussion by Ajuq.
“I sang live on the studio floor, directing from the vocal booth,” Costello said. “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.”
The final New York sessions apparently happened after quarantining began, as Costello describes his part of them as having been completed “via electrical wire.” These tracks feature him augmented by guitarist Bill Frisell (with whom he once released a live import EP) and Wilco member Nels Cline, with Michael Leonhart producing and arranging as well as playing trumpet.
“I wanted to write ‘Helsinki-Paris-???’ on the record jacket like this was a perfume or an advertising agency,” Costello jokes. “‘London’ was a possibility for the third city but London is forever. We’ll be there again. Michael sent this music to me from New York at the perfect time. It connected to elements in both of the previous sessions and completed the picture.”
In an online collaboration with Nieve recently, Costello said that he had wanted to get together with his long-ago producer Nick Lowe for London sessions, but apparently he decided those could wait for a future album, should they come to fruition after the pandemic.
The track list, with all songs written by Costello unless otherwise noted:
THEY’RE NOT LAUGHING AT ME NOW
(Elvis Costello / Michael Leonhart / Bill Frisell)
I DO (ZULA’S SONG)
WE ARE ALL COWARDS NOW
HEY CLOCKFACE/HOW CAN YOU FACE ME?
(Elvis Costello/Andy Razaf & Thomas Fats Waller)
HETTY O’HARA CONFIDENTIAL
THE LAST CONFESSION OF VIVIAN WHIP
(Words: Elvis Costello | Music: Steve Nieve & Muriel Teodori)
WHAT IS IT THAT I NEED THAT I DON’T ALREADY HAVE?
RADIO IS EVERYTHING
(Elvis Costello / Michael Leonhart / Bill Frisell / Nels Cline)
I CAN’T SAY HER NAME
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