This isn't to say that the album isn't worth a close listen. After all, the attention of Costello's imagined commuter is undivided. Suffused with Costello's distinctive and warm melodies—crafted here via the 101, Prophet 5, Synclavier—it's almost bursting with emotion. The Irish producer's work since he founded his Look Long imprint last year has followed the same path as much of what you'll find on Before, focusing itself as much on trying to make you feel as it is with trying to make you move your feet. In 12-inch format, this can often be an almost futile endeavor. ("We only need one track for the end of the night, Donnacha, thank you.") As part of a full-length, it's a welcome change of pace.
Despite the intense amount of care that's gone into making Before as coherent a full-length as possible, it also serves as its greatest weakness. Costello obviously takes great pleasure in finding a new way to present the Synclavier. But 50 minutes of the same synthesizers used to (largely) the same ends is just as wearying as 50 minutes of go-nowhere-minimal-bongo-house. There are moments that should signal respite: Three minute ambient interludes like "With Me Still" or "The Tug," which bookend the majestic ambient techno of "Stretching Time" for instance. But the only thing separating their timbre is a four-four beat. There is no respite here from the melancholy or, for that matter, the tools that Costello uses to achieve it.
Sustained mood pieces are lovely to sink into. Depressive techno heads, lonely commuters, gear heads and many more will find plenty to love. As an album, however, Before We Say Goodbye is too emotionally one-note to rise above its status as "pretty good" into "essential" territory, leaving listeners better off to pick their favorites—exactly the opposite of what Costello likely had in mind.