Elvis Costello and the Attractions are amongst the most impressive performers in contemporary music. They have produced a string of fascinating albums, Armed Forces, Get Happy, Trust, Almost Blue, Imperial Bedroom, plus the latest, Punch The Clock, and the music press have responded with tireless enthusiasm. In return he treats them with contempt.
Elvis is a difficult and contradictory person to interview. He is at once urbane and intelligent, moody and restless, passionate and dismissive. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge and obvious love of music, yet he can be scathingly critical of other groups. One thing is for sure. He has no time for fools.
"99% of the music record companies put out is total rubbish," he declared, leaning back in his chair and twiddling the cord of the venetian blinds. "Music is very apolitical and escapist at the moment. It's like meringue, sweet on the outside and full of air on the inside.
"The so-called British explosion is nothing but a lot of industry people congratulating themselves over nothing. It's the conservative end of the English pop spectrum which is gaining success. They're really pretty bereft of talent. Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran might be cute for a while, but they won't last. Culture Club on the other hand I think are really good. Americans like to be excited by a new trend, but there's nothing to link the groups. How can you compare Big Country with Flock of Seagulls? They have as little in common as we did with the Clash in '78 when everybody was talking about New Wave and Punk."
Elvis Costello and the Attractions are famous for their eclectic approach to rock, ransacking the past and shifting rapidly from style to style, not just through their career but during the same record or concert. "I get bored easily," says Elvis. "I have difficulty maintaining my interest in one kind of music. It's people that cut themselves off from anything new or anything that went before that limit themselves. They're putting rock on as a set of clothes, like the Stray Cats. I find them pretty laughable."
In contrast to its predecessor, Imperial Bedroom, Punch The Clock is an upbeat album, with bright rhythms and a joyful use of horns.
"Imperial Bedroom is something I'm very proud of working on," he says. "It is a complex album with a lot of different options on it, which makes it a difficult album to absorb. If it had been a very big selling record I dare say it could have changed the sound of pop. There were enough loose ends on that record, options other bands might have taken up.
"With Punch The Clock we set out to make a more direct album, although you can't set out to make a commercial album because you never know what commercial is."
Modest Elvis Costello is not. On his first visit to Australia he was called the Frank Sinatra of the New Wave, because of rough and tumble incidents with photographers. His short short sets and generally arrogant stance on that first tour meant that as far as credibility was concerned he had a lot of lost ground to make up.
Things have changed for the man who once said all he knew of emotion was revenge and guilt. The Buddy Holly wimp who set out to write the book of hate now displays the power and confidence that comes from commercial and artistic success.
Elvis Costello talks a great deal abut humanity in music, believing that character and personality make the difference between good records and brilliant records, not how they're played. "I walked out of David Bowie the other day," he says. "I just found him incredibly boring and lacking in any humanity.
Nor is Elvis a great fan of the recent dance music: "If you like the sound of someone driving a nail through the side of your head that's your business. It has no humanity in it, no space, it doesn't swing, it doesn't do anything. It's relentless. You might as well listen to your vacuum cleaner. But I am a great fan of music. There is a lot I listen to which is powerful and exciting and makes me want to carry on."