I work in a record store, and it's rare that a day passes there without somebody bitching that Elvis Costello hasn’t made a good
record in years. Apparently these folks feel that his recent
collaboration with Burt Bacharach just can’t compare with old school
Elvis classics like Punch the Clock or My Aim is True. When I hear
these people complaining, I tell them the same thing I’m going to tell
all of you: quit your damn whining and pick up a copy of John
Wesley Harding’s The Confessions of St. Ace, for it is without a
doubt the best Elvis Costello record that Costello never recorded.
On The Confessions of St. Ace, the man named after Dylan's seminal 1967 album churns out one glistening pop treat after another.
Forsaking the folk roots of his namesake, Harding instead relies on lush
and intricate arrangements to project his grand musical vision. In
doing so, he incorporates elements of rock, jazz, country and classical
music, creating wistfully irresistible pop confections filled
with effervescent melodies and clever lyrical wordplay.
The opening one-two punch of “Humble Bee” and “She’s a Piece of Work”
starts the disc in fine style; both tunes are insanely catchy, effortlessly
elegant and immensely hummable exercises in exquisite pop. But they're
just the beginning. From here, the listener is catapulted through
Harding’s velvet-drenched world of pomp and circumstance. Highlights of
this whimsical tour include the laid-back boho cool of “I’m Wrong About
Everything" (you may remember it from such films as High Fidelity), the Posies-inspired power-pop of “You in Spite of Yourself”
and the devastating middle couplet of “Bad Dream Baby” and “Goth Girl”.
"Bad Dream Baby" is Harding’s most obviously Costello-influenced number,
with squelching synths and crunching guitars occupying every inch of
space around his fantasy-laced lyrics. "Goth Girl," on the other hand, is without a
doubt the smartest pop song you’ll hear this year, pairing new-wave-inspired playing and production with brilliant lyrical quips like “I
know he’s appropriately frail, but I bet he can’t afford to take you to
the Nine Inch Nails. I’ve got two tickets”. Throughout the entire
twelve song trip, Harding proves that he’s sharp, witty and has
quite an ear for melody.
Fans of Elvis Costello and pop music in general should be sending their
thanks heavenward for the minor musical miracle that is The
Confessions of St. Ace.
Can I get an amen?