Essential albums: My Aim Is True (re-issue)
Sunday Times, 2001-04-22, Culture Magazine


Crucial cuts


The punk movement didn’t have much time for singer songwriters, but it had absolutely no problems with Elvis Costello. When he sang, his adenoidal baritone and emphatically wordy gabble made him sound every bit as sneery – in his own musically well-educated fashion – as angry novices like Johnny Rotten. He looked the part, too. With his spiky hair, nerdish glasses and bank clerk’s tight shiny jacket, Costello projected an antiglamorous faux-jerk image that instantly identified him as one of the contemptuous new breed of hippie baiters. The fact that he had absorbed for more American R & B and a much larger stock of chords than was considered safe by the hardcore punk crowd never hindered his progress, with the result that Elvis Costello soon became the acceptable face of a scene the BBC would only refer to as "new wave". My Aim Is True was the record that set things rolling. By the glossier standards of the albums that came tumbling our after it, his debut collection was a rough-and-ready affair recorded on days off while the artiste was still in full-time employment with a cosmetic firm. His backing band for most of the tracks were borrowed from an American country-rock outfit, Clover, by the producer, Nick Lowe. A meagre budget only allowed an average of two hours’ studio time for each of the 12 tracks, so overdubs weren’t on the menu and a live feel was more or less mandatory. Luckily, this DIY approach was all the rage when the album appeared in the late summer of 1977, and, paradoxically, its sonic imperfections helped to highlight the precision crafting of the songs. Three of them, Less Than Zero, Red Shoes and the classic ballad Alison are still called for whenever Costello plays live, and the rest crackle with a taut urgency that outperforms many more clamorous punkish offerings from the same period. What makes the CD reissue an essential buy, though, are all the additional tracks: nine bedroom recordings and outtakes in which the young Elvis saluted his American heroes, plus his and the Attractions magnificent stab at reggae, Watching The Detectives

Robert Sandall