Elvis Costello

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Elvis Costello

The coolest nerd in rock 'n' roll talks to TIME about his new album, National Ransom (out Nov. 2), and why he thinks there's still a place for vinyl records in an MP3 world.

You've described National Ransom as "songs for the bankrupt times." What do you mean?

We hear a lot about the impending arrival of another Great Depression. We've handed power to people and blindly trusted their understanding of value, just as we used to trust scientists to make the world better, but then somehow we ended up with the atom bomb. Don't you think that's a similar situation? If you cede all the power to people who invent a false science of economics, then the quality of life you give to the most defenseless people in society is prey to market forces.

Many of the album's songs are about travelers, troubadours and entertainers from a bygone era.

The people in these songs are clearly struggling. Not all of them are bleak, of course. "A Slow Drag with Josephine" is a farce about people running out the back door while someone is coming in the front. Whatever these songs talk about, they talk in terms of being a human. We're all in this together.

National Ransom is available as a CD, of course. But you also released it as a vinyl double LP.

The real record is the LP; that's the way I think it should sound. It would be foolhardy not to acknowledge that people want it in more-modern formats, but I also released it as four 78-r.p.m. records 'cause I wanted people to have something special. There's nothing quaint or arcane about it. It's just that some music sounds better in that form.