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Reviewed by Will Harris
Given his tendency to flit about from this style to that, Costello has suffered through plenty of slings and arrows over the years, with the classical stylings of 2003’s North and 2004’s Il Sogno getting as much scorn as the jazzy interpretations of his classic songs which appeared on his 2006 live album, My Flame Burns Blue. With Momofuku, however, Costello has once again asked the Imposters (Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas, and Davey Faragher) to serve as his backing band, who so ably served him on his 2004 Lost Highway debut, The Delivery Man. Just having those guys back together again is enough reason to start getting excited, as is the occasional guest appearance by David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), but Costello has added something new to the mix: a vocal supergroup – credited by using that very phrase, no less – featuring Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley), Johnathan Rice, Dave Scher (Beachwood Sparks), and Jonathan Wilson (Eisley).
Perhaps partial credit can go to the infusion of young blood, but whoever’s responsible, it’s no exaggeration to say that Momofuku finds Costello sounding as energetic and enthused as he has since his days on Warner Brothers, occasionally teetering on Columbia-era brilliance. “Mr. Feathers” and “Flutter and Wow” sound pleasantly like an outtake from Spike, Steve Nieve trots out keyboard lines on “American Gangster Time” that could’ve come from the Armed Forces era, and the chorus of “Turpentine” is such classic Costello that you wonder how long he’s been sitting on the song. Ironically, though, the secret to the majority of Momofuku’s success would appear to be its spontaneity, having emerged fully formed from the studio in only a few weeks’ time.
The tail end of the album may not possess the same musical immediacy as the beginning, but there are two country collaborations in the second half that are particularly notable. “Song for Rose” finds Costello teaming with Rosanne Cash on its lyrics, but although the music is his alone, it still somehow sounds like it could’ve fit perfectly on her 2006 album, Black Cadillac; meanwhile, “Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve” is a lyrical co-write between Elvis and Loretta Lynn, and though there’s not really anywhere that the latter’s contribution can be picked out, it’s an enjoyable Garden of Eden tale nonetheless.
Even with a title that demands constant misspellings, Momofuku is far more than just a contender for your Best of 2008 list. Indeed, with each passing spin, you will find that it inches closer and closer to taking the title of Best Elvis Costello Album in 20 Years.