Four of Elvis Costello's ten albums are available on Compact Disc, more than the number from most contemporary rock stylists. But then few artists have released ten albums in seven years. Costello's debut, My Aim Is True, is by far the least promising as a CD, but I've worn out both of my LP copies so I'm more than happy to have a new copy in a new format.
The endearingly low-fi aesthetic of this album is not memorable in itself, but it does make a point. Essentially a set of demos, My Aim Is True was recorded and mixed in a London studio by producer Nick Lowe, who completed the project within a few days at a cost of $800 or £800, depending on which version of the story you believe. But the unvarnished album burst with energy and grounded Costello securely in a commercially and artistically successful career.
The CD version offers minor improvements. There is a solid, ringing accuracy to cymbal work, but elsewhere in the percussion there are still muffled spots. Bass figures emerge with a bit more depth, and vocals sound slightly cleaned up, although not when compared to audiophile pressings.
The digital makeover doesn't solve the frequent crackle of distortion or the sometimes slapdash (and, in spots, near-mono) stereo placement. But the sheer vitality of the playing (by members of an expatriate Bay Area band, Clover, on all but one track) is first-rate, as are the songs — including "Less Than Zero," "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," "Mystery Dance," and "I'm Not Angry." Collectors should note that this version repeats the sequence used on the American LP release, which added a subsequent single, "Watching the Detectives," recorded by Costello and his then new backing band, the Attractions.
Still, better candidates for CD transfer would be the Spector-inspired sweep of Armed Forces or the Stax/Volt stylings of Get Happy!!. The latter could be a genuine revelation in CD, since the original analog LP crammed nearly 30 minutes onto each side of a single disc. Judging from British single mixes of those songs, the master itself offered more than the LP could handle.