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Review of My Aim Is True
New Musical Express, 1977-07-23
- Roy Carr

My Aim Is True

IT'S BETTER to have loved and lost and written a whole album on the agonising experience, than never to have loved at all and kept schtum about it.

Anyway, that's how Elvis Costello prefers to lay in on all your bleedin' hearts out there.

Honey! this definitely ain't no romance; more like sexual psychoanalysis set to a dozen superb juke joint anthems.

("My Aim Is True" isn't just the title track of Mr. Costello's auspicious album debut, but is indicative of a quirky line of vision which painfully - often to the point of total humiliation - examines the recurring traumas of love and other related adolescent dilemmas. Keeping a low emotional profile is one thing you can't accuse Costello of feigning.

Try this for size. On "Pay It Back", EC delves into the problem of a first-hand personality crisis "Auntie Annie told me I could be somebody if I didn't let too much get in my way /And I tried so hard just to be myself but I kept fading away".

Though Costello engineers his lyrics through a '70s interpretation of '60s rhythm 'n' rock, he doesn't expound the familiar brand of 60 Minute Man Macho, but instead resigns himself to the unflattering role of cuckold. Costello's affaires-du-coeur don't dissolve into stereotyped soft focus misty Martini sunsets, but blooded recrimination.

Instead of verbally cuffing his lovers like The Stranglers, Costello persistently indulges his masochistic tendencies. These range from a rousing rockabilly tale of flunking his first deflowering on "Mystery Dance", to plundering the Stones and getting D-minus as a stud in "Miracle Man" with such couplets as: "Why do you have to say that there's always someone else who can do it better than I can /But don't you think that I know that walking on the water won't make me a Miracle Man".

Much has been said about the influence Van Morrison has exercised over Bruce Springsteen; of both parties' sway over Phil Lynott; that Bob Seger, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker and Southside Johnny have copped some of their best licks from all three and how Elvis Costello fits in somewhere. Sure, there are tinges of all these artists prevalent in his approach, but whereas these performers celebrate either street fantasies or the joy of rock 'n' roll, Costello's songs spill over with emotional torture and melodrama.

His most impassioned showdown comes right as the very beginning of "Alison" - one of the most heart-rending tear-jerkers currently on releases: "Oh, it's so funny to be seeing you after so long girl, and with the way you look I can understand you were not impressed /I heard that you let that little friend of mine take off your party dress." I mean, you can't get more candid than that, and if that doesn't hit the spot then you're terminally insensitive.

I may have placed a great deal of emphasis on the lyrical content of this album, but only because it snuck-up on me from the midst of the hard-nosed brand of rock that Costello peddles.

Nick Lowe receives credit for production, but not so the musicians, who have enabled Elvis Costello to raise his album shoulder-high above most of this year's debut albums.

It takes only one glance at Costello and a couple of replays to realise that even if he may not be the predictable raw material from which teen dreams are made, he possesses more understanding of the stark reality of modern love than many vacuous songsmiths who assume thay have their finger on the pulse of what goes on behind closed doors.

Costello must have taken a lot of emotional knocks to come up with such a powerful album, to the extent that one is reticent to guess what lengths he may have to go to enact a second instalment.

Anyone who's ever had their fragile heart well and truly broken will have little difficulty in relating to this man. Indeed, if anyone lays claim to the title, "Beautiful Loser", then surely it's Elvis Costello.

An album often of intense brilliance, which also confirms that should he ever give up songwriting, Elvis Costello can always answer readers letters for Forum.

Roy Carr

The Elvis Costello Home Page

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