Insisting on having it both ways, Elvis Costello continues to alternate his edgy, literate rock with more musically ambitious projects.

Insisting on having it both ways, Elvis Costello continues to alternate his edgy, literate rock with more musically ambitious projects. Comprising a wistful suite of ballads on love lost and then found, "North" shows Costello at his most formal. With titles ranging from "You Left Me in the Dark" to "I'm in the Mood Again," the lyrics grow more upbeat as the cycle progresses, even as the music retains an oddly elegiac tone. Costello sings more subtly here than he did on his Burt Bacharach collaboration, and he is accompanied sotto voce by Attractions pianist Steve Nieve and a top jazz rhythm section of Peter Erskine, Michael Formanek and Bill Ware. The album's most distinctive sonic touch, though, is the singer's own strings-plus-brass orchestrations.—BB