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Why Does Elvis Costello’s Spanish Model Project Work So Well?

Mark Smotroff revels in a reinvention that defies odds…

When I first heard about the surprising new project from Elvis Costello called Spanish Model, I worried for a brief moment. But then, I had to take a step back and remember this was Elvis Costello helming this reinvention of one of his all time classic albums — 1978’s powerhouse sophomore release This Years Model. So, as I’ve done time and time before since that year I just relaxed and welcomed this bold new experiment with open arms and open ears.

I’ve been a dedicated fan of Elvis’ since 1978 when I bought his first two albums and was absolutely gobsmacked by the music. Over the years I’ve been pleasantly surprised, wow’d, jaw-dropped, tear-dropped, re-educated and ultimately overjoyed by Elvis’ many category defying albums which broke him out of the “angry young man” mode of his initial PR firestorm.  He rather rapidly was rightly elevated to renown as one of the finest songwriters of his generation.

It has been a wonderful journey from the country western brilliance of Almost Blue to the haunting introspection of North to his spectacular collaborations with no less than Burt Bacharach (Painted From Memory) and Paul McCartney (Spike, Mighty Like A Rose). Like Dylan before him, in his own way Elvis continues to challenge us.

The goal of Spanish Model is noble. From the official press release we learn that Elvis “… brought together a stunning international cast of some of the biggest Latin rock and pop artists from around the globe to interpret Elvis Costello and The Attractions’ classic 1978 debut album, This Year’s Model, entirely in Spanish.”

So, yes, Spanish Model features newly-recorded vocal performances with Costello and The Attractions’ original instrumental performances from the pristine master tapes.  

For this initial phase of my listening report — based on the CD version mostly — I’m just going to talk about the music and how it works as an end to end listen. I haven’t had a chance to really hunker down with the lyrics yet to explore the new meanings built upon and into these songs.   

If you are intimate with the original version of This Year’s Model, one of the things you’ll probably appreciate is the new sequencing. There is some special magic revealed here in Spanish Model.  For example, Nina Diaz’ searing version of “No Action” segues into Raquel Sofía y Fuego’s take on “(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea)” (aka “(Yo No Quiero Ir A) Chelsea”) instead of the quick fade out followed by the powerhouse drum intro to “This Year’s Girl.

I don’t know for sure but it sounds like this was an original transition the band recorded in a live take. So while we are hearing new vocals sung in Spanish, we are also hearing — effectively — alternate mixes and studio outtake recordings which were not in the original incarnation of This Year’s Model. That alone makes Spanish Model a must own for Costello fans. 

I love how effectively Elvis duets with Luis Fonsi toward the end of “You Belong To Me. ” The new singers not only do the songs justice but they elevate and own them as their own for a new generation to discover.  More than just a remix album, Spanish Model is a fun album in its own right. 

If anything, this project is closer in concept to Paul McCartney’s very successful recent collaborations created out of his wonderful Mccartney III album (recorded in “rockdown” of the pandemic).  Retitled as McCartney III Imagined, the new version works almost better than the original in some ways (click here to read my review) and it is at minimum an important companion release. 

Indeed, with Spanish Model, Elvis’ songs are imagined anew, given fresh interpretations which blend brilliantly with the original backing, making this a fine compeer (if you will). 

There are also new versions of songs which only came out as 45 RPM singles back in the day. Some of the most successful of those tracks on Spanish Model include Sebastián Yatra’s “Llorar“ (aka “Big Tears”) and Gian Marco y Nicole Zignago’s duet on “Crawling To The U.S.A.” (which originally appeared in the US on the soundtrack to the film Americathon).

The CD version of Spanish Model I received for review sounds great all things considered – it is a bright punchy recording but there are no ugly harsh edges. Everything feels like it fits together nicely, not an easy trick when blending 21st century vocals with backing tracks which are more than 40 years old. 

If you have access to Tidal you can hear Spanish Model in 96 kHz, 24-bit MQA fidelity (click here) and on Qobuz in Hi Res format (click here).  I haven’t listened to either version closely enough to make a preference for one or the other but hopefully by the time I review the vinyl version I can offer some insights.  

Spanish Model is a winner for Elvis Costello and these fine new artists. 

Now I only have one dream request: I’d love to hear a remixed alternate version of This Years Model presented in this expanded running order with these edits and re-arrangements. That could be a great special edition for Record Store Day… just sayin… 

Please check out some of the videos which have been issued already including three episodes of a fascinating mini documentary series on the making of the album which follow…

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