In recent years rock music has gotten progressively further from what made it good in the first place.
There have been flaccid singer-songwriters that have the emotional impact of James Taylor eating Cheerios, bland rhythm-and-blues quartets whose main claim to fame seems to be a monthly appearance on the Dinah Share Show, and loud, bombastic bands doing bad imitations of Led Zeppelin so that seventeen-year-olds can have something to stick in the tape player while cruising around McDonald's.
In other words, rock has for the most part become just what your parents said it was when the first saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show: stupid and repetitive. Kansas and Styx imitate Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Molly Hatchet sounds just like Lynyrd Skynyrd. And the list goes on.
The only ray of hope comes from a few artiste still clinging to the rock and roll ideals of melody, economy, and unpremeditated outrageousnes. Most of three artiste are British and you won't hear them very often on your favorite radio station. Radio is a bad place for anything unpremeditated or outrageous, at least around here.
Which brings us to Elvis Costello and his latest Columbia album. Get Happy!! Yes, Elvis took the name of one of America's foremost Las Vegas lounge singers; yes, he looks just like what would have happened if Buddy Holly had been exposed to high radiation levels for several weeks, But the fact remains that Elvis is producing some of the best music being heard (or not heard) today.
Elvis Costello writes short, pithy songs (there are twenty on Get Happy!!) that combine a sharp ear for a catchy phrase with a gift for melody that recalls the great days of the Beatles, the Merseybeats, plus other proponents of true trash-as-art. His music has a slick, almost assembly-line feel much like that of Elton John or Motown in their primes. Each song on Get Happy!! is carefully, ingeniously contracted to produce a definite effect, in under three minutes.
Let it suffice to say it is obvious Elvis loves rock music in a way that has gone out of vogue. To get this kind of feeling you have to go back to early Beatles singles, old Phil Spector songs like "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." This may sound like nostalgia for nostalgia's sake, but when technique and showbiz are substituted for real emotion and unpretentious technique, then it's time to re-evaluate what is important.