Chicago Reader, August 16, 1996

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Critic's choice

Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Bill Meyer

Both the Sex Pistols and Elvis Costello & the Attractions play sold-out shows this Saturday, a circumstance that provokes consideration of how well the class of 1977 has kept its early promise to reinvent pop music. The Pistols' Johnny Rotten once represented a genuinely frightening antisocial impulse; he talked about the death of rock music, but he sounded like he was rooting for humanity's extinction. Now the Pistols are a joke, and their willingness to telegraph the punch line by proclaiming that they're only touring for the money (like the Eagles?) raises the question, Why watch a scheduled train wreck? Unlike Rotten, when Costello was an angry young man he was interested in reforming music, not destroying it. The deliberately stripped-down approach of his earliest records never concealed his unabashed embrace of songwriting as a craft. For most of the 90s, the latter tendency has overshadowed the former: Costello has churned out album after frustrating album of overwritten, overarranged songs that lack the simple indelibility of his early work. His new album, All This Useless Beauty, reverses the trend. The songs, mostly written with or for other artists, are more lyrically direct and overtly melodic than anything he's done since 1989's Spike. (Costello's too proud of his writing to give other performers opaque material.) The reunited Attractions' flexible accompaniment provides him with a sonic palette that's just as colorful as the army of hired guns he's used in the past decade, but much more empathic. And the Attractions' familiarity with their early material, which is now old enough to vote, has yet to breed contempt.

Saturday, 8 PM, Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont


Chicago Reader, August 16, 1996

Bill Meyer profiles Elvis Costello ahead of his concert with The Attractions and opening act Ron Sexsmith, Saturday, August 17, 1996, Rosemont Theatre, Rosemont, IL.


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Photo by James Crump.
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