"The shape of things to come" is the motto of Stiff records. Their artists such as Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and Ian Dury are now having their product distributed in the States and the future for all looks bright.
Elvis Costello has received many accolades since the release of his debut album, My Aim is True, seven months ago. The reason for the deserved interest is two-fold. First, Elvis' physical appearance is arresting, with black suit, black horn rimmed glasses, and short cropped hair, a throwback to the 1950's. Second (and more decisively) the music is appealing because of its starkness and the intensity of the vocals which are in the mold of Bruce Springsteen and Graham Parker.
This Year's Model, the follow up effort tops the first album. Although Elvis still sings as if he is loaded with amphetamines, the group's musical, ability is much improved. The songs arc somewhat more complex, and due to the prominent use of keyboards, the quartet is tighter. Producer Nick Lowe is to be commended for his effective interweaving of the instruments. In addition, Elvis is prominently aided by the group's back up vocals which add depth, such as on "Lip Service."
The 11 cuts are all playable, but the standouts are "This Year's Girl," "The Beat," "Pump it Up," and "Lipstick Voyage," his most ambitious work to date. The closing track, "Radio, Radio" is which Costello sings that "The radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anesthetize the way You feel" is performed with such intensity that the non-believer is ready to throw his radio into the garbage.
In fact, this "anti-top 40" position is part of the reason that This Year's Model is the best album released thus far in 1978.
Until now, Nick Lowe has received notoriety as the producer for Costello and Parker. However, Lowe puts his musical talents out front with Pure Pop for the Now People (entitled The Jesus of Cool in England) an eclectic batch of twelve songs that range from pop to ballad to reggae to parody. As a result, the album has its ups and downs. Although the pop rockers such as the lead off cut "So It Goes" and "Marie Provost" are most effective because of their bounciness and direction, the soft numbers such as "Tonight" and "36 Inches High" are repetitive and do not sustain the listeners interest.
Lowe's vocals are pleasant enough although they lack Costello's dynamism. Perhaps this is why the songs are so easy to relate to. Lowe clicks on the amusing "Roller Show," which describes a young groupie who has a ticket to see the Bay City Rollers. The cut is replete with the hooks and choruses of a Rollers song. Further ingenuity is displayed on "(I Love The Sound of) Breaking Glass" which copies David Bowie's "Breaking Glass" thematically and his "Sound and Vision" musically.
Ian Dury demonstrates his eccentricity on New Boots and Panties, his debut album. Just a quick earfull will prove that it is not intended for everyone. One must get acclimated to Dury's style. The vocals are fairly decipherable above the music. The songs are catchy although it is doubtful that you will be whistling them while you work. Try "Billericay Dickie" with the spoken introduction: "Good evening. I come from Essex in case you couldn't tell. My given name is Dickie, I come from Billericay and I'm doing very well."
After breaking through Dury's barriers, he is a pure pleasure. The highlight is the British hit "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll" in which Dury claims that life is more then "Doing business that you don't like." In this song, the guitars and keyboards of Chaz Jonkel add texture, while the change of pace is quite effective.
The bottom line is one of individual taste. New Boots and Panties comes close to fulfilling Stiff Record's original promise. If this music is the shape of things to come, then we are in good shape.