Unlike any other individual to rise out of the British New Wave movement over the last two years, Elvis Costello has been the only one to achieve any sort of commercial success in the U.S. Though it has taken him three albums to accomplish this (his latest album, Armed Forces, is currently running in Billboard's Top-Twenty), be has nevertheless managed to survive.
But his survival is a rare feat in itself. Surprisingly, his newer material continues to build upon his previous efforts. Whereas many artists falter and wane after two or three releases, Costello's material never fails to keep the listener's attention.
Thus, at least musically, Armed Forces is a step up from This Year's Model, even if its lyrical precision is not as sharp.
If there is any way to properly describe Costello's consistency, it must be because of the overriding, near-dogmatic, virulence of his sarcastic vision of life. Not only does he poke fun at his subjects, but he also critically maligns them in such a fashion that we have to be aware. Thus, his is dance music you can think to.
And what is even more unsettling about his anger is that it has apparently grown out of the same social stratum which incorporates most Americans: the middle class. After all, Costello used to work with computers and his songs deal with problems and events which usually occur only within this group.
So, it is not really surprising that America finally caught on. Even if you can't understand all the words (count me in!), his smooth and bouncy songs make him one of the best melody writers around. America is just beginning to realize what Costello is all about: even if you don't understand what he's saying, that doesn't mean you can't dance to it! After all, disco's done that for years.
So, it seems as if Costello is becoming acceptable now. If his sold-out concert Friday night at Georgetown University's McDonough Arena is any indication, Costello's overt appeal is only a beginning. To what level his popularity will expand to is difficult to judge. Suffice it to say that there is nothing standing in his way from achieving superstardom.
His show, though only lasting a little over one hour, was, nevertheless, one of the tightest and strongest to ever worm through Washington. For such a badly designed hall, Costello's sound was sharp, clean and well-mixed. During the short set, Costello (and his backup group, the Attractions) ran through a collection of his songs culled from all three of his albums, though concentrating heavily on his material from Armed Forces.
There is really very little to complain about his show. It was good, solid rock 'n' roll, its acute danceability enhanced by the clear sound.
But where it faltered a bit was in its lack of surprises. For a man who literally thrives on shocking people, his show left a lot to the imagination. Now, I am not saying that what he did (or didn't do) was dull; rather, his fire seems to have been quenched. Costello's show last year at the Warner Theatre had you up in the aisles and ready to kill; Friday's concert simply had your head nodding.
His songs still had bite, though, and it was hard not to appreciate his abilities. The problem was that what he gave us only whetted our appetites. There was so much more he could have done.