Elvis Costello is widely considered one of the most prolific, accomplished and celebrated songwriters and recording artists of all time. The British musician’s resume boasts over 30 releases across a 40-year recording career. His recorded output has also taken on myriad musical styles—rock, jazz, punk, soul, classical, country, singer-songwriter fare, and even hip-hop—and he has collaborated with the likes of Burt Bacharach, the Brodsky Quartet, Paul McCartney, Bill Frisell, Roots, Diana Krall, the Charles Mingus Orchestra, T-Bone Burnett, and Allen Toussaint.
And the accolades don’t stop there: his first three albums all appeared on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, in addition to clocking in himself at No. 80 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Around that time, Costello was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and over the course of his career he has been nominated for several Grammy Awards, winning twice. Likewise, he has been nominated twice for an Academy Award for his musical contributions to motion pictures and has made over two dozen appearances in television and the movies. But perhaps more importantly, Costello is well known for his inquisitive, thought-provoking lyrics, often cited as a master artist of wordplay.
Over the course of his four-decade recording career, Costello has often reinvented his public image, and with a grace foreign to most pop stars.
This summer, Elvis Costello and his backing band The Imposters will embark on a tour that celebrates not one but two anniversaries: the 25th anniversary of one of his most beloved releases Imperial Bedroom and the 40th anniversary of his debut album, My Aim is True, including an appearance at Fraze Pavilion July 18. This concert marks a rare opportunity for Daytonians to witness the living legend perform right in their own backyard.
Long before Costello became a marquee name in the music world, he was simply Declan Patrick MacManus, a British musician struggling to make a name for himself (literally in this case) and find his identity in England’s pub rock scene of the early 1970s. He caught the attention of the now legendary British independent label Stiff Records and was signed to a contract in 1976. The label’s management suggested he take on a new stage name. And he was reborn as Elvis Costello.
In mid-1977, Stiff unleashed Costello’s debut opus, My Aim is True. The album features many of Costello’s most recognizable songs such as “Allison,” “Watching the Detectives,” and “Less Than Zero.” While the record was only a moderate commercial success, he was already receiving critical acclaim as a musical breath of fresh air, and he soon became associated with Britain’s burgeoning punk and new wave scene. Before long, Costello signed a worldwide major label contract with Columbia Records, but his ascension to rock-and-roll royalty was just beginning.
Fast forward five years, and Costello’s music and lyrical content were shifting from the “angry young man” tag he had been saddled with early in his career; the sharper edges of his art were rounding out into something more cerebral, colorful, and musically expansive. This expansion is perhaps best exemplified with the 1982 release of Imperial Bedroom, his seventh studio album. While the album does away with the rough-and-tumble new-wave rock sounds of his first four albums, the album’s bite comes from the poetic yet still cynical nature of his lyrics, which has become hallmark of Costello’s body of work. Produced by Geoff Emerick, most famous for his studio mastery recording The Beatles, Costello’s album boasts strings and a variety of moods. Like nearly all of his work, Imperial Bedroom was a hit with critics (New York City’s alt weekly The Village Voice voted it Album of the Year), yet failed to produce any hit singles. Despite this, the album contains one of Costello’s most revered songs, “Almost Blue,” a tune with a distinctly jazzy feel in tribute to iconic trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker.
Costello’s 2017 tour has been named “Imperial Bedroom and Other Chambers,” which will undoubtedly focus on that album’s key tracks and should also feature many more of his signature songs from across his wide-spanning career, including tunes from his debut album.
Forty years of producing music of hefty artistic merit and relevancy isn’t something most musicians have a chance to brag about, but Costello continues to pump it up beyond belief, and Daytonians have a chance to pump it up with the legend himself.