Let us deal first with certain misconceptions. Costello is not a Presley imitator in any sense except, perhaps, the sneer. And his moniker was selected before the death of The King, not in a fit of exploitative necrophilia. Elvis Costello should not be banished to the punk/new wave rock category — he has already shown accessibility, consistency and quality writing which separates him from the pack. With this, his second album (the first being the high-class My Aim Is True), Costello deals out 11 more originals, each reflecting a point-of-view and emotional feeling which is all his own.
My Aim Is True had a rhythmic, minimalist sound with bass, drums, and keyboards backing Elvis' angry, driving vocals and rhythm guitar. Rockabilly in some spots, reggae in others, the lyrics were out front. Costello and Nick Lowe, producer of both albums, seem to have changed course between the two, and This Year's Model jumps back with both feet into mid-'60s rock 'n' roll, with dominating organ a la the Animals.
The new album is bludgeoning in its musical approach, but it is the perfect setting for Elvis' songs, which average a little over three minutes in length. Costello's band, the Attractions, drives the tunes along with a cat o' nine tails and consistently provides the proper shade of black. No instrumental solos will be found.
Although Costello and avant garde jazz musicians might fret at the thought of an alliance, they do have some things in common. Musically speaking, Costello's work is an answer to the clean, pretentious "today" sounds. The lyrics of a song like "Radio, Radio" could have been written by any number of musicians we've interviewed, if they were 23-year-old working-class punks. "They don't give you any choice 'cause they think that it's treason," and "The radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools tryin' to anesthetize the way that you feel."
But that is about as far as Costello goes into sociological subjects; most of his tunes are of a more personal nature, usually with perverse twists. His idea of a love song is "Hand In Hand": "If I'm gonna go down, you're gonna come with me ... hand in hand." This could go on and on. Enough to say that if you liked what you read, there's plenty more of the same.
The early word from Elvis himself, who has since clammed up, was that his songs are about "hate, guilt and revenge." This is as accurate as any three-word synopsis. His raw, fierce music is acclaimed by furniture movers, corporate executives and critics alike.
I'm going out on the limb to predict that if Elvis Costello follows up his first two albums with more of like quality, intelligence and feeling will be injected into pop music with an impact similar to that made by the electric Dylan of the mid-'60s. Gotta check out that loud droning — I hope it's Elvis and not a chainsaw.