Are you floundering in the sea of New Wave? Do you find yourself puzzled by Punk? Well, lost souls, lake heart and read on.
This two-part series will attempt to lift the best of the contemporary artists up from these musical trends. So proceed you befuddled and beleaguered listeners and read "The Guide to New Wave" (or A Primer to Punk).
The man who is universally considered the leader of invading New Wavers is the inimitable Elvis Costello. Backed by his band, The Attractions, Costello has cut a swath across the music field which will linger on and is likely to spawn an entire new generation of progressive musicians.
But first, and particularly in defense of artists like Costello, I must emphasize the distinctions between New Wave and Punk.
New Wave is simply the name given to a new vein of musical expression and its corresponding style. It is a broad descriptive category because it encompasses all the lesser brands of music which have evolved in the past three to five years.
While there is a definite style which is strictly New Wave," there are also subunits which are labeled New Wave as well and Punk is the most prominent subunit one.
To help clarify this semantic problem it may help to return to the late '50s when we or maybe our older brothers and sisters) encountered a similar problem. The music of the day was swing, pop and bop. Listeners suddenly heard music of Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.
Someone penned a name for the latest step forward in sound. In the '50s they called it Rock 'n' Roll so it is in the '70s that it's called New Wave.
Then from the base name of Rock 'n' Roll sprung the various branches like "heavy metal, acid rock, jazz rock, pop rock," etc. So while the whole was called Rock 'n' Roll, there also existed a distinct form which was straight Rock 'n• Roll. The same holds true for New Wave.
In 1977, English computer programmer, Elvis Costello took the record industry by storm. In an effort to be heard by CBS Records, he set up his band in the street in front of the motel where that company was having its annual meeting. CBS pounced on the chance to record Costello. Soon followed My Aim Is True (1977). which set a precedent for New Wavers everywhere.
Elvis and his band raced through their repertoire with guts and determination while maintaining a clarity and leanness of sound. Costello's knack for penning catchy lyrics and creating devastating musical hooks earned him a growing cult of followers.
His second release, This Years Model (1978) shows a further development of the band's numerous talents coupled with a deepened sense of dark humor and wit.
Several weeks ago we were blessed with another addition to the Costello family of music with Armed Forces (1979). This album emerges as the most stinging and powerful effort from the band yet.
In addition of a touch of reverb (echo chamber) and the piano are qualities which Elvis molds to accentuate the terse and lean style he pioneered. The band as a unit exudes more self-confidence which is easily recognized in its explorations of new musical themes.
Again Elvis tells us his stories with emotion and urgency. He furthers his ambiguous feelings towards women with "Party Girl" and simply lays down some of the best fresh new sounds to date with "Green Shirt," "Moods for Moderns."
Repeated listenings to Forces us well as exposure to the earlier Costello gives a listener quite an earful and provides the foundation for further adventures into the world of New Wave.
One warning should be given. Do not enter the realm of Costello lightly, because there is an intensity which lies within which is seldom heard in today's world of mindless, commercial music.
"I want to bite the hand that feeds me, I want to bite that hand so badly. I want to make them wish they'd never seen me." - "Radio, Radio" (Costello, 1978)
Next part: The Talking Heads, Devo and The Dead Boys.