North

Having reinstated his rock & roll credentials last year with When I Was Cruel — not to mention getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — Elvis Costello characteristically makes a dramatic stylistic turn on North. The album is filled with haunted, piano-centered ballads and elegant string and horn arrangements that tease out subtleties in the songs' already understated melodies. Costello's singing is quiet and controlled, an intimate voice describing an emotional journey from abandonment ("You Left Me in the Dark") to a renewed commitment to love ("Let Me Tell You About Her"). North exudes a consistent, subdued beauty that, at times, is almost too delicate to make a true impression. Despite its intelligence and musical sophistication, the album floats by on a breeze so light that it risks escaping notice; the songs disappear into the air before the listener can discover a way to inhabit them. There's an undeniable pleasure in that effort to grasp this music and its meanings before they fade, but at times you can't help wishing they were less evanescent, more substantial.

x