Variety and diversity in a performer are two distinctive features of a talented entertainer. In the music world of today, one musician who nearly defines the word "change" is Elvis Costello.
Costello's latest album, Punch the Clock, which was released almost a year ago, marks a complete metamorphosis for him since he came onto the music scene with his 1977 debut album My Aim is True. However, for Costello, his aim has seemed to be anything but true, with his styles ranging from hard edged rock to country & western to a slick, studio sound in the past four years. Despite all of this change, Costello remains one of music's most intriguing performers and talented songwriters.
Costello arrived in the United States with all of the punk rock hoopla that surrounded performers from England in the late `70s. And living up to punk ideologies, Elvis was surly, obnoxious and loud, both as a performer and as an individual. This sort of negativity quickly earned him the title of "The Angry Young Man."
His first album reflected that anger in his lyrical content, which also demonstrated his excellence in songwriting. Costello's were more than mere protest; they weren't provoking and very intelligent, songs that mirrored society and relationships realistically.
The album garnered praise from critics all over the country, earning "Best Album of Year" accolades from several music publications. This work proved to be a hard act to follow.
Costello's next five albums retained the raw edge that seasoned his first album, as well as the biting lyrical content. His lyrics dealt not only with relationships, but also with war, peace, authority and even a scorching criticism of mainstream radio's conservatism with the song' "Radio, Radio."
However, Costello's songwriting prowess lies in his ability to write mature songs about love, speaking of insecurities, failures and double entendres in these often devastating relationships. His lyrics are a fresh change from the formulated and insipid pop/rock love songs in that they're both clever and witty, as well as sometimes bleak. Costello's own lyrics are, at times, too cynical even for himself. In fact, Costello took a six-month hiatus from songwriting after penning the line, "When I said that I was lying, I might have been lying" in the 1980 song "The Imposter."
The Angry Young Man seemed to grow up and cheer up during this period.
Costello returned to the music scene in 1981 with a country & western album that perplexed fans and critics everywhere. The album flopped, and he once again became elusive and distant to the public.
In 1982 Costello came back with another different approach to recording with his Imperial Bedroom album, a slick studio working that reversed his previous raw, hard-edged stance on music. The album proved to be a masterpiece. He lightened up a bit on the cynicism, and showed his maturity on this highly touted LP.
Much like the predicament that faced him after his debut album, Imperial Bedroom was a hard act to follow. Punch the Clock followed last year, proving to be Costello's most accessible album with an even smoother sound, incorporating a brass section in his band. Its flaws were more notable than Imperial Bedroom, but the rich production of the record overcame these rough spots.
Oddly enough, the same mainstream radio that Costello often chastised gave this latest album considerable airplay, making the single "Everyday I Write The Book" a hit.
With this irony Elvis Costello completed his metamorphosis — from an angry young punk to a content, mature and still very talented man.