Elvis Costello continues to confound expectations. After last year's raucous collection When I Was Cruel, many thought the bile-spitting rocker of old was back for good. Instead he's chosen to follow it up with the ridiculously limp-wristed North, a thoroughly dull set of romantic piano ballads and orchestral torch songs. This is Costello at his most self-indulgent - and while there are some pretty moments here, as a whole the album drowns in a sea of gloopy sentimentality. Clearly, the idea was to document the singer's breakup with ex-Pogue Cait O'Riordan and his subsequent engagement to Diana Krall. But these irony-free songs are impossibly mannered and awkward, sounding like pastiches of 1940's standards rather than anything authentic or deeply felt. Costello's nasal twang, meanwhile, so effective in front of a rock band, here just sounds strained and over-exposed. If you enjoyed his collaboration with Burt Bacharach, you might just like North. If you're an Attractions fan, forget it.