Three years doing Eng Lit at university, and all I can remember is: "Great art exists in limitation." Goethe, I think. German bloke. Wasn't in a band. Never sure what it meant. Until last night.
Before the explanation, however, the confession. In recent years I have wilfully limited my exposure to the poppy angst-rock of Elvis Costello. Elvis's chamber baroque'n'roll with the Brodsky Quartet last year, The Juliet Letters? Dug it. Stretching himself. Fabby. But when it came to guitar-based stuff, I figured Elvis couldn't surprise me any more. Wrong.
Last night Elvis's voice wasn't great, buoyed with mugs of Lemsip because he had a cold. And the overall sound wasn't the best, and when Elvis sang his new single, "London's Brilliant Parade," I found myself wishing for the energetic brashness and studied naivety with which young mock-cockney pretenders Blur hymn the cheeky, chirpy streets of the metropolis.
And just as I began to feel ashamed for my shallowness, it began coming together. In extremity. Under the cosh. With his voice being raw, Elvis had to rein in the quasi-jazz scat-vamping efforts he's been wont to do. No repetitious stretching of phrases. Keep it focused. Logically, sticking to the old songs should have worked best, too.
But great art admits no logic, because it was Elvis's new ones, from the Brutal Youth LP, which emerged under pressure as stripped-down gems. "Clown Strike," "Kinder Murder" and the awesome "Rocking Horse Road." So, Sir Elvis. I admit my shortcomings, and I apologise. You are always a complete education.