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Elvis Costello's 'Momofuku' is worth dusting off the turntable

By Gabe Meline

Elvis Costello's new record is only available as a double vinyl LP that comes packaged with a free MP3 download coupon, and it is a blessing for Elvis Costello fans that the format isn't the most newsworthy aspect of the record. Momofuku is the best record Costello has made since 2002--he's cranked out six albums in as many years since--and is yet another return to form. The CD issue comes out May 6, but you won't want to wait that long; it's time to dust off that old turntable.

Elvis Costello's last "real" album, the twangy Delivery Man, was a backpedaling one-night-stand with one of his many flames, country music. Like the always-available floozy at the end of the bar who's attractive in the right kind of light, country is Costello's comfort, just as jazz and classical are his challenges. What he's best at is rock & roll, and his last great album, When I Was Cruel, showed that instead of playing around with other people's dishes, the chef shines when he's tossing dashes of genre obsessions into his own soup.

That's the recipe for Momofuku, which opens with "No Hiding Place"; the song sounds a little bit like "I Hope You're Happy Now" from Blood and Chocolate until it starts toying with major-minor changes, lines like "You sit in judgment and bitch/ Well, baby that's rich / You're nothing but a snitch" and ending with a stanza that throws in an extra four-count--just because. A lazy Tin Pan Alley piano rhythm drives the character study of "Mr. Feathers," and "My Three Sons," with a viola and melodica dipped in reverb, closes out side three in subtle but not too wayward fashion.

Jenny Lewis, of the band Rilo Kiley, makes an appearance on almost all of the tracks, though not with any prevalence; she sounds, along with fellow guests Jonathan Rice and David Hidalgo, like wallpaper. Meanwhile, Costello is turned up in a very organic mix (he can be heard humming off-mic at the end of "American Gangster Time") that suffers only on "Stella Hurt," a garage-rocky clunker with a burbly guitar solo that sounds like Weezer's "Buddy Holly" mixed with more of Steve Nieve's corny vintage synthesizers. If it's the worst song on the record, then we're in good shape.

A final thought, then, on the album's title, Momofuku, which despite a disclaimer cannot be anything but a reference to the small chain of five-star ramen restaurants in New York City, where Costello now lives. Momofuku's star chef David Chang, who, according to a recent New Yorker profile, is something of a stress case, gave the magazine this quote: "I'm finally dating somebody that I don't hate her guts," he said. "We had dinner yesterday and I was like, 'I don't hate you at all!' You know?"

Sounds straight out of the Costello songbook to me.

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