Elvis Costello is an angry young man at a time when there would appear to be little demand for angry young men.
The matter is complicated by the angry young man's desire to be a pop-music star, which Elvis Costello wants to be, whether or not he is willing to admit it, which is unlikely.
Mr. Costello appeared to be the brightest hope of those who welcomed the "new wave" in this country a year and a half ago, and he still appears to be the brightest hope, even though he has a few serious handicaps that have restricted the amount of appeal that Columbia Records feels he is capable of generating.
Those involved in the promotion of Mr. Costello are banking heavily on the bespectacled British rocker's third album, Armed Forces, which is now in the stores.
The general feeling is that if Elvis Costello is going to make it big, now is the time. Mr. Costello has relented some in the stand he took with his first two LP's, which had minimal production. Mr. Costello maintained that the lyrics of his songs were what counted, not instrumental prowess. No one in his band was permitted a solo spot on any of the Costello recordings.
Accordingly, Mr. Costello's first two LP's were dashed off in less than a week's time.
For Armed Forces, Mr. Costello and his group — now named the Attractions — spent a month in the studio with producer Nick Lowe, a rock producer-musician of considerable note. As a result the new album is far more accessible than the previous efforts, although the production is still relatively low key.
Realistically, this is probably not a do- or-die moment in Elvis Costello's career. Considering his handicaps, the first two LP's did moderately well, and prospects for the new one look quite promising. It made its debut on the Billboard best-seller charts last week in the No. 85 spot with a "bullet" (meaning that rapid upward movement is expected).
The chief distinction between Elvis Costello and most of the rest of the new wave is that Mr. Costello is deadly serious about his music.
He is not interested in producing inane music that sells mainly because it is high-energy.
From a technical standpoint, Mr. Costello is certainly the best of the new wave. It is music with a message, and the message is invariably an angry one.
Angry music, of course, is not exactly in vogue these days. Pop music seems to be dedicated mostly to fluff.
Another problem is Mr. Costello's personality, which has not proven to be among the more lovable in interviews and on stage. He has demonstrated boundless arrogance in his evaluations and judgments. Even the choice of his professional name, Elvis, can be interpreted as an act of arrogance.
Ultimately, there is the question of Mr. Costello's singing voice, which is not especially pleasing.
Still, Elvis Costello could reach the stardom many have predicted for him.