Given the snarling, deep groove nature of the advance singles “No Flag” and “We’re All Cowards Now,” you have no idea how badly I was gearing up for one of those late career Costello rave-ups. Like Wise Up Ghost, the distinct and direct Look Now, and the restless narrative of The Delivery Man. Well, so much for high flying expectations.
A Costello acolyte since ’77’s atomic burst, My Aim Is True, that’s not to write off Hey Clockface entirely. It’s a rave up and it isn’t. Almost. Sometimes. Maybe. At 66 a man’s fancy can get locked in or turned loose while making his way to the loo. But that’s always been Costello’s gig when you cut to the core of it: musical malleability Mach 10. And in what perhaps is his greatest songwriting gift, he’s going to leave you with something no matter what. Think “Shipbuilding,” “Pills and Soap,” and “Everyday I Write the Book” from the consistently awful Punch The Clock. “Sulfur to Sugarcane” from the cut and paste exercise Secrets, Profane and Sugarcane. I could go on, but every artist bears some regret. Goodbye Cruel World or Brutal Youth anyone?
So, as it bumps along from the instantly hypnotic, Middle Eastern spiced, spoken word rumination “Revolution #49,” the densely flogging “No Flag” to the dried, hushed balladry of “They’re Not Laughing At Me Now” Hey Clockface posits itself at best uneven, ill-paced, yet oddly alluring. As it is for us all during these unforgiving times, time is on Costello’s mind and he’s going to wring it for all it’s worth. Which is cool, don’t get me wrong. But as we go from the metaphoric thump thump thump of the rather intriguing “Newspaper Pane” to the title track’s kitschy 1940’s swing schtick to the goofy hip-hopping, lyrically skipping “Hetty O’Hara Confidential” (Pointing manicured fingers and making a mockery / With voices that sound like broken crockery) to the dull spoken word of “Radio Is Everywhere,” Hey Clockface feels stitched together. And we can see the stitches.
Mike Jurkovic is a poet, writer and Lightwood music critic and is the president of CAPS, Calling All Poets, a reading series in the Hudson Valley.