Detroit Free Press, May 27, 1994

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Elvis Costello and the Attractions pump it up again

Gary Graff

The reunion of Elvis Costello and the Attractions has a bit less sizzle than, say, regroupings by the Rolling Stones, the Eagles or Pink Floyd.

Or even, for that matter, a sighting of that other Elvis.

And that's just fine with the frontman of this celebrated British rock ensemble. "There's this rush to hail the reunion of the Attractions," Costello, 39, says in a sarcastic tone.

"There was no preordained plan to do it; I was recording some new songs, and suddenly we were all there together. "I know people would like some dramatic, life-affirming story of how the Attractions came back together, but it's just not there. I don't think you'd get some kind of romantic story out of those guys, either."

Who knows? To make sure the story stays uniform, Costello and his manager, Jake Riviera, have barred any interviews with the Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas (no relation).

But during sessions last year for Costello's new album, Brutal Youth, Pete Thomas acknowledged to Musician magazine that "with this band, we're all mad... We get by in the real world, but when we get together, it's a fireworks display."

Fireworks is an apt description for Costello and the Attractions' 10 years together and their ill-spirited breakup seven years ago.

It was one of the finest ensembles to emerge in the post-punk rock world, not quite as seminal as the Sex Pistols, perhaps, but far more accomplished and, at the same time, just as combustible.

It was a perfect match of a songwriter and musicians to play his songs; Costello's snarling wit and tricky melodic sensibilities were expertly served by Nieve's swirling piano and organ, Bruce Thomas' melodic, Paul McCartney-inspired bass lines and Pete Thomas' propulsive rhythms.

It was a versatile outfit, too, capably handling everything from the punky drive of This Year's Model and Armed Forces to the country lope of Almost Blue to the lush complexities of Imperial Bedroom.

Temperaments and differing musical interests got the best of the Attractions after the 1986 album Blood and Chocolates; Costello had recorded another album that year, King of America, without the band. "I think a couple of them think we're a bit more of a band than I think we are," Costello, who was born Declan McManus, explained in a 1989 interview.

So things ended badly, though Costello continued to record and tour with Pete Thomas.

Bruce Thomas penned a memoir, The Big Wheel, that slammed Costello but never mentioned him by name. Nieve, meanwhile, went on to various musical projects in England; "He became something similar to Paul Shaffer over there," Costello says.

Costello spent the intervening years expanding his stylistic repertoire. His albums Spike and Mighty Like a Rose were diverse pop affairs. The Juliet Letters was a chamber pop excursion with Britain's Brodsky Quartet.

"I confounded a lot of people with those records," Costello says. "I realize they try some people's patience; not everybody has as broad a view of music as me...

"But I'm still glad I did them. That people loved my earlier work so much is complimentary in some respects, but it depends on how much they want to control your life. They can't, except by absence; if people stay away or don't by the records, you have to pay attention.

"But Spike and Mighty Like a Rose were two of my biggest-selling records, so diversity hasn't proved to be the commercial disaster some critics would like it to be."

After he finished The Juliet Letters, Costello started working on a new batch of rock songs. Some of them he gave to British pop singer Wendy James for an oddball album, Now Ain't the Time For Your Tears. Pete Thomas played drums on the demo tapes, and Nieve was enlisted to play keyboards for the songs that would comprise Costello's album, and old buddy Nick Lowe was the original bassist, but when he felt incapable of playing some of the tracks, Brutal Youth producer Mitchell Froom suggested bringing Bruce Thomas back to the fold.

"The songs dictated the players in this case," explains Costello, who could also have hired his 19-year-old son to play bass.

"I suppose the most obvious difference is the freshness that we haven't made music together for awhile there. ... But it's amazing how quickly it fell into place.

"The roles have changed, even though the styles of the players have been enriched by their experiences in the intervening years. ... There have been subtle changes in the nature of the individuals. One of the things I've learned from working with players who were maybe more skilled and disciplined like the Brodsky Quartet is that (skill) is how you get the best out of the music, but you can also carry that approach over to rock 'n' roll and still get great results."

Still, Costello won't project the future of the Attractions beyond Brutal Youth and the current concert tour which finds the ensemble playing older songs it had never before attempted because of skill-dampening pre-show drinking rituals.

His own plate is full, including a stage musical he's writing for England's Nottingham Playhouse and ideas for other albums that range from an acoustic set to what he calls "a horn orchestra record" that will not necessarily be jazz.

On the other hand, he fully appreciates the Attractions' potential and its firepower in delivering his material.

"We haven't discussed it that much; I don't think anybody wants to tempt fate," Costello says. "The most important thing right now is to do good shows.

"Ultimately, it's a decision I'll have to make. I don t know whether anything new is going to happen in the dynamic of the band for us to say, 'Here is a sound, now.'

Or do I simply have another 12 songs or 16 songs I really want to use this ensemble on while these guys sound hot."

"That remains to be seen. But we've never really thrived on balance and calm, anyway."

Elvis Costello & the Attractions and Crash Test Dummies will perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Pine Knob, Sashabaw Road at 1-75, Clarkston. Tickets are $22.50 pavilion, $12.50 lawn. Call 1-810-377-0100 anytime.


Detroit Free Press, May 27, 1994

Gary Graff interviews EC ahead of his concert with The Attractions and opening act Crash Test Dummies, Monday, May 30, 1994, Pine Knob Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI.


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