This week marks the American release of Elvis Costello's debut album, My Aim Is True. This is by no mean the beginning of the Elvis Costello story, however. Because if you have seen any of the record trades, American music magazines, and especially the English music newspapers. you're aware it had already begun. It was in England earlier this year that Elvis Costello, a former computer operator, made the usual rounds to the major record companies with his demo tape. Having no luck with these Elvis finally found a home at one of England's most imaginative independent record companies, Stiff Records. Stiff set the stage for My Aim Is True by introducing Elvis Costello through two singles. With Stiff's other artists being involved in the New Wave of music coming out of England, Elvis found himself being sold next to punk rock groups like the Sex Pistols or the Clash. As a result, when this New Wave music hit the American audience, he was considered a part of it, even though he didn't belong musically.
Late this summer. Stiff finally released the English version of My Aim Is True (same as this American release except for one song) and it fulfilled the promise of his singles. But unlike recent favorable recordings which were released in Britain only, the enthusiasm for Costello and his music did not stop in England and has been matched here by Americans buying imported copies. It has not been since Elton John's early efforts and before that, all those years when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones' albums were released in England before the U.S., that an import album has stirred up so much attention. And all this fuss is hardly misdirected, because My Aim Is True is a fabulous album.
Musically, Costello is a student in the recent white, R&B, pub-street rock and roll school, along with fellow Englishman Graham Parker, Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny. And while Elvis may be the most basic in looking back to those roots, he probably has the most diversified debut of this class. Elvis' sparseness is evident on both of the album's musical fronts. First there's the haunting ballad, "Alison" (the more recent version on this American release has a fuller background than the import version — one of the album's few differences) which centers on the infectious side of Costello's vocals. These isolated vocals make one want to compare Costello to Todd Rundgren in his ballad days rather than the rockers mentioned above. On the other hand, the rockabilly territory Costello enters on "Mystery Dance" is essential rock and roll stripped to the bone.
My Aim Is True fits in between these two musical extremes, with a noticeably steady increase towards a more fuller production, peaking at almost a Phil Spector-like formula on "Red Shoes." With this progression, there are early Beatles' tendencies in "No Dancing," the earthy Band-sound of "Blame It On Cain," and the whirlwind effect of "I'm Not Angry" along the way. And that one addition to Costello's musical arsenal on this American version here is "Watching the Detectives," where Elvis forges past a reggae-like opening to one of his most festive and finer moments.
On My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello has woven together thirteen songs, each just as good as the next one. Each song possesses a freshness and witty quality not found on many albums these days, and the end result is one of the most interesting and indispensable debuts of 1977.