Last year, Elvis Costello released When I Was Cruel, one of his best recordings since the '80s. This year, the mercurial, pop-besotted Costello seems to want to be taken seriously, and North is serious indeed. It also sounds like a collection of love songs memorializing his engagement to Diana Krall, the Canadian chanteuse who's made jazz sexy all over again.
The album boasts ornate arrangements and unusually careful vocals. North sounds like money; if nothing else, it attests to the clout befitting an artist in his third decade of genre-hopping and -influencing. Unfortunately, North is also monochromatic. Even though the instrumentation spans solo piano and a 48-piece ensemble, the tunes blend into one another and are resolutely slow. Perhaps that's part of Costello's strategy: Corral "serious" music lovers with albums like North and his many collaborations, then reconnect with his old audience with albums like Cruel. Maybe next year, he'll choose invention over craft and grace his patient fans with an album that's serious and playful.