Picks and Pans Review: North

updated 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Elvis Costello

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Elvis-ologists will creditor blame—his recent engagement to jazz singer Diana Krall (a Canadian, as in from the north) for this slow-burning album of stripped-down ballads, stretches of which contain only voice and piano. Costello has been down this road before (for instance, on the string-quartet album The Juliet Letters), but this new disc doesn't feel like an experiment. He clearly chose these raw, intimate orchestrations (melancholy strings and horns come and go) to match the naked emotion of the new lyrics, perhaps the most direct ever heard from this bad-boy emeritus: "I long to hear you whisper my name/'Till you tell me, 'My Darling, you maybe my man.'" Cycling from breakup (Costello split with wife Cait O'Riordan, formerly of the Pogues, in 2002) to goo-goo-eyed new love, the songs are fine individually, but the exceedingly spare sound grows monotonous after a while. Costello would have been better off if he had been as swayed by Krall musically—using her voice in a duet, or her fuller arrangements-as he is emotionally.

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