In the fickle world of pop music, evolution is essential. That's been the operative rule for Elvis Costello, an artist whose stylistic flip-flops have veered from rebellion to respectability. While punk was engulfing England in the late Seventies, Costello (a.k.a. Declan McManus) made his debut as a bitter, barb-tongued nebbish whose taut, rapid-fire melodies straddled the line between edginess and accessibility. Following a string of brilliant albums with his band the Attractions, he shrugged off the antagonistic attitude and became a respected singer/songwriter with somewhat less verve.
Still Costello's prolific prowess has never been in doubt, as evidenced by his unlikely pairing with old-school pop composer Burt Bacharach in the late Nineties, when he reinvented himself as a romantic crooner. He exploits that persona to a once-unthinkable extreme on his latest album, North, a collection of mostly unadorned ballads that reunites him with ex-Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve. E.C.'s current tour is an ideal opportunity to link his past personas with his current MO.