Review of My Aim Is True
RAM, 1978-02-24
- Annie Burton


Review of My Aim Is True

By Annie Burton

There's nothing average about Elvis Costello. The more you listen to My Aim Is True, the more Costello's nonconformity strikes you between the ears.

Like all singer/songwriters, he's necessarily an egotist. (Obviously you have to be, to consider your opinions, your perceptions and so on worthy of public performance). But he's not your average deliverer of personalized love songs; no baby I lerv you why don't you lerv me slushy whines here. The album's only track possibly definable as a love song is the tender, rueful Alison (its chorus provides the My Aim Is True title line); that track, like the rest of Costello's songs, is still hard-edged, pointed, and in no way mushy. That point is clearly spelt out in Alison's first verse: I'm not gonna get too sentimental / like those other sticky valentines. He goes on, neatly illustrating both his nifty, neat expression of emotion and his control of word play: Cause I don't know if you are loving some body / I only know it isn't mine.

Neat, huh? He does the same thing time and again throughout the songs on this album, deftly turning clichés inside out, building up a chorus for an unexpected punch line, taking the sympathetic emphasis from some observed third person onto himself (No Dancing), always maintaining a strong sense of realism by piling up true life detail, keeping imagery skillfully scaled down to life size. He's what you might call a slow dazzler; at first it's the music that grabs you, the simple four or five piece basic R&B band dominated by drums and workmanlike guitar. The band's mixed well back so the Costello tonsils dominate; only after close listening can you hear just what those uncredited musicians are up to, particularly the guitarist; when he's given a short space for himself (or themselves- Elvis plays rhythm guitar, but lead is played by someone within the Stiff family, maybe even Dave Edmunds) he fills it with economical tight licks. But it's the lyrics that dominate, even though their full impact takes time to absorb.

The musical mood changes from track to track - fast rock 'n' roll on Mystery Dance, a riff reminiscent of Heartbreak Hotel and, incidentally, the closest Elvis Costello comes to his namesake; I'm Not Angry has a wild guitar, clashing cymbals pattern that makes you know he's not angry, he's furious.

Costello stands outside the established patterns, but unlike the punks deliberate childish defiance which recognizes authority, and is therefore ultimately part of it, Costello is using the established conventions against themselves. His voice sounds instantly familiar, but there's no one person you can pin him to as an imitator; instead his voice is an amalgam of rock singing styles, forged into a style of his own. On My Aim Is True the only recognisable style that isn't original is the Spectorism of No Dancing; the fact that it's been achieved without Spector's wall of sound machinery and dozens of overdubs is remarkable in itself. Costello, strange and vengeful little person that he is, has emerged as the most original and straight out musically addictive character for quite some time. Sharp, witty, (take the 'legendary hitchhiker' lines of Waiting For The End Of The World, for instance) perceptive, original and a remarkable singer as well....

There's no stopping him now.