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Welcome back to the Elvis Costello Song Of The Week®, our ongoing attempt to drive you ever-deeper into the catalog of the musician who most embodies the Trunkworthy mission.
The week’s pick: “I’m in the Mood Again,” from North (2003)
Gary Stewart: This has to be one of the best songs about falling in love in New York and falling in love with New York. It’s hard to hear it and not imagine the same black & white elegance that inspired Woody Allen’s Manhattan, or parts of Delbert Mann’s Marty.
The song is from the very personal and misunderstood jazz vocal album North, which is about a romantic relationship’s demise and the eventual blossoming of a new love. “I’m in the Mood Again,” the album’s closer, finds its subject in a graceful, grateful, and even jubilant place after enduring the highs and lows chronicled by the album’s previous ten songs. But you don’t have to know anything about North, its concept, or Costello’s personal history to let this song work its magic. It’s one for the books—one that Cole Porter, Noel Coward, or the Gershwins would have been proud to call their own. Though it hails from 2003, it feels like a should-be standard that Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and Michael Bublé could’ve really wrapped their pipes around.
It’s also no less celebratory in extolling Manhattan’s virtues than “Empire State of Mind” and “Theme From New York, New York.” (Pay attention, NYC visitor’s bureau!) Costello regards his eccentric, wonderfully mad—and at times incomprehensible—adopted city with bemusement, acceptance, and finally an outright loving embrace.
Before you buy into the prevailing wisdom that Paris is the best place to fall in love, give this a listen, and you’ll think twice before choosing the Eiffel Tower over the Empire State Building.
David Gorman: Yeah, this song would feel right at home in a Woody Allen film, specifically Hannah and Her Sisters, which, of all his films, had the biggest impact on me and my record collection. I fell in love with traditional jazz, the great jazz singers, and, by extension, the Great American Songbook to that movie, and there were two songs in particular that compelled me to flip through sections of the record store that were more often visited by mountain lions than kids my age: “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” and “I’m In Love Again.” I hear both of those songs in “I’m in the Mood Again.”
It’s a song made for a candle-lit night in or a night out in black-tie. It’s a song you’d expect to hear while sipping an Old Fashioned at New York’s Café Carlyle. And it’s a song Elvis Costello was probably dreaming he’d one day be able to write when he sang “My Funny Valentine” 25 years earlier. But songs like this aren’t easy to write. The great love songs—the ones that can carry a whole movie and become a generational rite of passage—are, in scientific terms, “elegant solutions”: deceptively simple expressions of complex and profound feelings. And this song is nothing if not elegant, both musically and lyrically.
Costello’s reputation as a songwriter was built in large part on his gift for intricate wordplay, but there’s none of that here. He’s too in love to decorate his feelings, and he doesn’t seem to be looking to tell any story bigger than the one he is living. The result is something that sounds timeless and universal exactly because it’s so personal. It’s sentimental in a way rock artists really aren’t allowed to be. Which is probably why almost nobody paid attention to this album. But if he’d handed it over to the object of this album’s affection, his now-wife Diana Krall, I have a feeling it would have become something of a standard itself.
Cue up all of the Elvis Costello Songs Of The Week with this handy playlist: