He is beyond his Helsinki sound now. Elvis Costello is back with a bite. Magnificent Hurt, his first single from upcoming album, The Boy Named If, is the raucous awakening of a man not quite past his prime. He and The Imposters are gearing up for another setlist of quality entertainment. He has not passed the peak of his powers just yet. His album has a sense of urgency to it. A desire to be listened to as soon as the publishing schedule will allow for it. With tracks like Magnificent Hurt, it is clear to see why that prioritised attitude is so important.
That drum and bass pairing introduces the track and naturally gives way to the crooning Costello. His vocal powers remain unchallenged and as strong as ever. He adapts with the vocal array now presented to him to deliver a story of bridging the gap between risk and reward. A notable attempt at yielding the rewards of an otherwise dangerous venture. Costello sings of that well with plenty of variations of tone to back him. Solid, new wave power-pop from the group who stopped and started on the previous album, Hey Clockface. A cutting guitar is a real standout, an effective, faster and gruelling piece that rings back to the early days of Lipstick Vogue and Pump it Up.
But Costello and his troupe are keen to push forth into the future. Magnificent Hurt has similar pacing to that of last year’s single, No Flag. What separates them is not quality or consistency, but meaning. Where Costello harped up the issues of belief in the flag and country last year, he now considers the terrors of trusting someone magnificent and the hurt they can bring. It is mused on well, repetitively so, but this track unites all the grand and explosive reactionary writing of a sharp songwriter. Steve Nieves hammers away at the electric keyboard like there’s no tomorrow. Costello thumps away at the guitar, but there are times where the lyrics become randomly foreboding or unconnected. It works because the distraction of strong musical craftsmanship is strong, but there is a hollow feeling found within.
It has that same rock-pop motif that Hey Clockface had from last year, and it serves Costello well. Likely it may be that this is the heaviest post-punk hit of the album, Costello’s lyrical waxing is snappy and entertaining. The way he uses the line “feels magnificent, hurt,” over and over is adapted well. Flowing through the track is an inherent simplicity, clashed against with this complex arrangement of magnificent, brief instrumentals. The pause between the two words of this title track is the fitting, necessary time Costello needs to bridge the gap between slower contemplation and a return to his classic sounds. That much is used fascinatingly well, and it will be a welcome throwback for fans of earliest work. Bombastic toward the end, Magnificent Hurt turns into an internal struggle between how magnificent the singer feels, and how hurt he could become. He ends on a high note. Magnificent. Just like this track.