Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello
by Graeme Thomson
Canongate, 352 pp., $24 (paper)
One of many moments Mojo contributor Graeme Thomson gracefully recalls from Elvis Costello's career in order to better contextualize his "life and music" is the cry of "genius" from the audience at a 1991 concert. "Ah, not yet I'm not," Costello replies. "That's next week. And the week after that I'll be a fucking idiot again." At the time, Costello's comeback was a distress signal that the onetime New Wave geek with glasses could still summon the sting of his "coiled tight" youth, while also a reflection of the critical and commercial response to a path that once promised superstardom but now veered wildly into esoterica and perceived pretense. Thomson takes his time getting to this point, but nonetheless finds a sustaining thematic link between the notions it evokes. In other words, how did such an asshole manage to make it between blow-torching bridges and insisting on putting out records like Anne Sofie Von Otter Meets Elvis Costello: For the Stars? Thomson's distinctly un-British effort – the snide-swipes and gossip are kept to a minimum – is that rarest of rock & roll studies: expertly researched, restrained yet stylish, and in perfect tune with its subject's work.