Elvis Costello — whose iconoclastic musical career has spanned the punk era of the ’70s pop collaborations with Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach, the acclaimed “Juliet Letters” with the classical Brodsky Quartet, and a recent experiment in hip-hop with The Roots — doesn’t pretend to be hewing to a particular creative path.
“I’ve followed what I want to do, and you can say that’s self-indulgent or you can say it’s artistic,” he tells American Songwriter. “I don’t think it’s either. I think it’s just what I do.”
Costello, who performs with his band The Imposters 9 p.m. Saturday, March 8, at Caesars Atlantic City, can draw from a deep catalog of more than three dozen albums for his setlist.
Whether the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer brings along his “Spectacular Spinning Songbook,” a Wheel of Fortune-style wheel through which audience members can pick songs for the set, remains to be seen.
Regardless, Costello and his band will put on quite a show judging by the “celebratory, comical, angry, emotional, wild and wayward 28-song set” they performed last year at London’s Royal Albert Hall, according to Telegraph critic Neil McCormick.
“There is a jazz-punk aspect to The Imposters: they are not afraid of getting wonky and dirty, attacking songs with irreverent energy and dragging them in all kinds of different (and not always compatible) directions,” McCormick writes.
The same sense of unpredictability pervades the Grammy winner’s seemingly unlikely collaboration with The Roots, the Philadelphia-based hip-hop collective that’s now the house band for “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon.
The resulting album, “Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs” (Blue Note), reveals Costello and The Roots to be kindred musical spirits “bound by wide taste, insatiable appetite and fathomless record collections,” despite being “separate by age, style, and demographic,” writes AllMusic.com critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine.
“This is an exquisitely detailed, imaginative record that pays back dividends according to how much knowledge, either of Costello or the Roots or their idols, a listener brings to the album,” Erlewine writes. “It’s not exactly alienating but ‘Wise Up Ghost’ does require work from its audience, and the more you know — and the more you listen — the better it seems.”
Where the nearly 60-year-old Costello goes next with his career he doesn’t pretend to know, except to say he’s not stopping anytime soon.
“I suppose I’ve got freedom of movement to some degree, but I’ve never accrued the kind of great fortunes that are retirement type of money,” Costello tells American Songwriter. “But I don’t want to retire, I want to keep going.”