After the success of No Flag, with its ethereal opening and coarse, cutting lyrics, I had high expectations for Elvis Costello’s follow-up single. Teased and teased over the month between releases, Hetty O’Hara finally drops, another entry into Costello’s “Helsinki Sound”. I’m not quite sure what Helsinki sound means, and for those hoping for continuation from No Flag in anything other than visuals, then look elsewhere, for Hetty O’Hara is lighter in tone, lyrics and entertainment value.
Lots of abrasive sounds, acapella backing tracks and bouncing notes plague the song from start to finish. An amalgamation of sounds crashes together with mixed results. Costello’s vocals take prominence once more, and rightly so, it’s just that he doesn’t have anything interesting to say here. No biting commentary on allegiance to the flag, no sultry expose of lovers gone by. I’d hesitate to call it empty, but it’s a mile away from the quality we received only one single ago. The opening is a sign of things to come, with bombastic vocals and an out of place piano key crafting a faux feeling of upbeat improvisation.
Perhaps the biggest problem of all is how the lyrics and sound don’t seem to correlate. There’s no comedown or high point within the discourse presented, and it all crumbles rather quickly. No line stands out all that well as a prominent or important piece of the song, no piece to this jagged puzzle culminates in anything sonically rewarding. The only line that comes close to any form of reflection or conversation is “Those were different days – those were different drugs”, which can be taken any number of ways, none of which are engaged with on the track. With the rest of the lyrics amounting to inconsequential or rather confused, it’s a shame that Hetty O’Hara feels like a song with its beat at the forefront, the spotlight clinging to it for much of the song.
Waves away from what I was expecting, and unlike anything I’ve heard from Costello before, Hetty O’Hara hasn’t got the narrative or lyrical strengths that earlier single No Flag had, it’s a step in the wrong direction for this new Costello venture. Not as catchy or intriguing, a lighter touch than its predecessor. Hetty O’Hara has the energy of earlier Costello tracks, but doesn’t have that sharp narrative tongue he’s become famous for. No replayability on display in this one, and the best this recent single can offer is a jagged fade into relative obscurity.
You can listen to Hetty O’Hara below.