In his brash young punk years, Elvis Costello probably would've loved being mentioned in the same breath as Ray Davies, because Davies was one of the few grizzled old Britpoppers that the punks didn't want to evict. But that was all 30 years ago. Since then, generational lines have been redrawn, and Costello and Davies have both been sorted into the file for distinguished veterans who now only occasionally stumble into relevance.
Davies attempts one of those stumbles on Other People's Lives, his first collection of new material in more than a decade, but like a lot of Davies' post-'70s work—with The Kinks and on his own—the new album sounds too much like a man chasing trends. There are flashes of vintage Davies early in the record, on "Next Door Neighbour," "All She Wrote," and "Creatures Of Little Faith," all of which rely on the music-hall melodies and class-conscious character sketches that made The Kinks more than just another shaggy-haired '60s cash-in. But elsewhere, Davies holds to an indistinct, overly tasteful modern-rock sound that could've been slapped underneath any old rocker—that is, when he's not knocking out embarrassingly glib ditties like "Run Away From Time" and "Is There Life After Breakfast?" The gap between Davies' talent and his effort is never wider than in the difference between the easygoing, poignantly soulful "Thanksgiving Day" and the silly social commentary "Stand Up Comic," which warns us that "the clown does a fart and we all fart back."
Costello, meanwhile, follows up his excellent 2004 country-rock album The Delivery Man with another of his confounding retreats from the genre he does best. My Flame Burns Blue—the title is a play on Costello's first album, My Aim Is True—employs The Metropole Orkest to give a jazzy big-band spin to a set of covers and Costello obscurities, with a few hits like "Clubland" and "Watching The Detectives" thrown in. It's hardly going to re-introduce Costello to a new generation, but on its own terms, My Flame Burns Blue is pretty winning, and worthwhile for the way it rescues songs like "Almost Ideal Eyes" and "Episode Of Blonde" from the archives and fits them back into the Costello story. By the time the record wraps with a gorgeous rendition of "God Give Me Strength," the younger angry young man is sounding more comfortable with middle age than his progenitor.