Hey Clockface

Hey Clockface

Whether he's writing rock music, soul, country, classical, or any of his other myriad stylistic departures, Elvis Costello’s albums have always felt rigorous and focused. On Hey Clockface, his 31st album, he focuses on the loss of focus; these knotty songs express the unexpurgated thoughts of a man living through a pandemic of faith. Unsteadiness suffuses the lyrics and the music, which veers from rattling guitar rock to spoken-word pieces to a giddy offshoot of ragtime jazz. “At least the Emperor Nero had an ear for music,” Costello sings witheringly on “We Are All Cowards Now,” which compares our political leaders unfavorably to the man who fiddled while Rome burned. No songwriter has ever had a more enduring gift for jaundiced critiques of how power and lust twist our lives, and Hey Clockface lingers over virtuosic internal rhymes and disturbing images of modern vanity (“Freedom to be reckless/Freedom to plunder,” he sings on “Newspaper Pane”) without offering the satisfaction of catharsis. Like all clear-eyed realists, Costello isn’t here to offer false hope or restorative tonics.

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