BBC News, September 27, 2004

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Elvis Costello


BBC News

Elvis Costello released two albums: Il Sogno - a rewritten version of a ballet score based on Midsummer Night's Dream and The Delivery Man, an unmistakably blue jeans album.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review taken from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight Review.)

TOM SUTCLIFFE: John Carey, Bob Dylan's already got his professorial cheerleader, I think the post is still open for Elvis Costello, any chance you will be taking it?

JOHN CAREY: Yeah, I think he's better than Bob Dylan. I like Dylan, but it's just the music there. Costello's not just a musician, he's a thinker and a poet. It seems to me The Deliveryman is a very coherent CD with the centre on anger and betrayal. And 'Monkey To Man,' which we've just heard, is the centre of it. What he's saying in 'Monkey To Man' is evolution's been a mistake. It's what Rousseau said, that a thinking animal is a monster.

SUTCLIFFE: He never said it with the backing of a four-piece band. Bonnie Greer, what did you think?

BONNIE GREER: Let me swallow this first thing about Dylan, John! Il Sogno is kitsch, I mean you hear everything he's ever into. The second one, the pop album, is OK. It's classic Costello, but he sounded like that 20 years ago, so nothing's moved on. It's not bad, but if you've heard his first stuff you've got the best of it.

SUTCLIFFE: Safraz Manzoor; in one sense, doing an album with the London Symphony Orchestra, and doing a song cycle, which The Deliveryman is, these are the two classic symptoms of rock pretension. But these records didn't sound pretentious to me?

SAFRAZ MANZOOR: I'm still reeling from John's comment about Dylan as well! But the thing is it's really interesting that his backing band on the rock album is called 'The Imposters.' The thing about Costello is that he can pass himself off as so many different things, as a composer, as a country singer, and that shows how clever he is, but it doesn't necessarily make us understand who he is himself. Listening to it, it was enjoyable but I can't foresee any circumstances why I would want to listen to it again. It felt like a pastiche album to me.

SUTCLIFFE: I thought there were some great songs on here, and there were some very daring songs too.

CAREY: What about 'She's Pulling Out The Pin?' He wasn't doing that twenty years ago.

GREER: The sound is the same as 20 years ago.

CAREY: It's the words I'm talking about. I'm saying he's poet.

GREER: He's not really a post, he's a lyricist.

CAREY: The song is about a suicide bomber. It starts as she takes a pin out of her hair, taking off her dress, it's erotic. And suddenly it switches over to the suicide bomber who is pulling out a pin. That can't be on the CD in the States. They scrubbed it, but here it can be. It's a very interesting idea, that passion in once sense and another are equated.

SUTCLIFFE: What's clever about that song is the ambiguity is never diffused, he keeps it to the very end of the song. And the melody is beautifully judged to go with it.

GREER: He hasn't moved on melodically.

SUTCLIFFE: He has Bonnie!

GREER: Who wants to hear the past? He's supposed to be the guy that's moving forward. This album is fine if you're an Elvis Costello fan, if you're die hard, but if not you won't be impressed with this at all. You will be fine, and you'll buy it, but it's not a big deal.

MANZOOR: I kind of agree. The songs are strong and the song writing is good. And the collaborations are well chosen. I guess what I'm saying is for me it doesn't break any new ground. It feels like Costello by numbers, but putting on a different hat, trying to pretend he comes from the Deep South.

CAREY: What about his 'crying statues and his flying bomb,' the description of man, about sentimental art and destruction. It's a good line!

GREER: Dylan did that 40 years ago and in fewer lines as well.

SUTCLIFFE: We don't want to get the Dylan competition going again. I thought 'The Name Of This Thing Is Not Love' was a very strong song too. This is a song about, as it were, very powerful feelings, and the refrain comes in like a man trying to shake himself out of the wrong sort of relationship. It's a brilliantly written song. And you can dance to it too. I think he's working to his highest level on some of these tracks, it's not a very even record entirely, but some of it's terrific.

GREER: I don't think either of us are arguing about that, it's the fact if you take the thing as a whole, melodically, his stance politically, all of that is 20 years old.

MANZOOR: I think the main question is there's nothing wrong with any of this stuff, but what is Elvis Costello for in 2004? There's other stuff out there. This will please people who like it, but it doesn't make me want to put my Franz Ferdinand album away.

SUTCLIFFE: It does me!



Tags:  Il SognoThe Delivery ManBob DylanThe ImpostersMonkey To ManShe's Pulling Out The PinThe Name Of This Thing Is Not Love

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BBC News, September 27, 2004


Newsnight Review reviews The Delivery Man and Il Sogno.

Images

2004-11-27 BBC News photo.jpeg
Photo credit: Uncredited.

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