Once upon a time in merry old England a child was born. He was christened Declan Patrick MacManus. As the son of a performing musician, Declan grew up with music in his blood. It is not surprising then that he learned to play guitar and began writing songs at an early age. Young Declan knew, however, that it was not easy to make a good living as a professional musician so he took a job as a computer operator. He got married to his teenage sweetheart and was soon blessed with a son whom he named Matthew Patrick Declan MacManus. Although this made him happy, he was not quite satisfied with his life. Many people would have been content to settle down into a happy little existence like this, but not Declan. He was constantly writing down ideas for songs on scraps of paper while he worked or as he rode the train to and from work. Soon he knew that he simply had to play. He began busking along the streets of London. He did this not for people's donations as most buskers did, but in hopes that he would be discovered. Once he was even arrested for creating a public hazard while playing outside the headquarters of CBS Records in London. It was also at this same time that he began hanging out in the clubs around town where bands such as Brinsley Schwarz were playing. He even spent a brief period of time as a roadie for them. It was during this stint as a roadie that he became friends with Nick Lowe, the band's bass player. Nick suggested that he look up a new company called Stiff Records that was run by a fellow named Jake Riviera. The tape Declan sent them was the first one they ever received, but nobody there even listened to it. They figured that with a name like Declan MacManus it must be all Irish folk music or something. Finally Jake did hear Declan play and he signed him up almost immediately. Nearly as quickly as he was signed, they set about the business of finding him a new
name. Declan was not overwhelmed by this idea but went along under Jake's assurance that it was the only way to go. This was during that historic period in history when the Pistols and the whole punk thing were really happening, so they felt that the name Elvis would fit in well with all of the anti-establishment hype that was going on. So, Elvis it was. They added Costello ( his mum's maiden name) and the new King was born.
Jake quickly booked Elvis in the studio and set about making a record. As his backup band Jake brought in a Southern California bar-band he also managed called Clover (out of which came John McFee of the Doobies, Huey Lewis and half of the News). The resulting album was called My Aim is True. After the album was completed they set about to put together a regular band. Out of the applicants were chosen Pete and Bruce Thomas (not related) and Steve Nieve; thus the Attractions were born. So it was; and so it would be for nearly eight years and ten albums (give or take a compilation or two). During those years Elvis and the Attractions explored many areas within the realm of popular music, even taking time out in '81 to record an album of country standards. For the project Elvis chose Nashville producer Billy Sherrill who has worked with virtually every artist in Music City at one time or another and who Elvis later recalled as "a complete and utter hack. Hasn't got an ounce of feeling in him." They played this and that until Goodbye Cruel World in '84 which many people (Elvis included) call their worst album.
Which brings us to 1986 and King of America, which many are calling the best (myself included). Throughout the years there have been many changes but never as many as took place in the time between these two projects. First, Elvis Costello is no more. No matter what they may call him on MTV, that person is gone. Declan is back; Declan Patrick Alysius MacManus to be exact. Elvis was a creation of a record company who grew out of control on a diet of alcohol and who knows what else. All that is over now as is his relationship with his wife. The divorce is final and Declan has fallen in love with Cait O'Riordan of the Pogues, a Celtic group he recently produced an album for. The name, the lifestyle, and the love interest are not all that have changed either. It is not only no longer Elvis, but no Attractions as well. Although they do appear on a couple of tracks, the main backing group consists of many of the players who worked with Elvis Presley (the TCB band) and a few other very well-respected American musicians.
The album's producer, T-Bone Burnett recently told Musician magazine "I don't think anybody's realized yet how good he is. ...This record is a break with his past. It's back to what he really cared about in music in the first place." This is the record every fan of this man always knew that he had in him. More importantly, it is the record the man always knew he had in him.
Everything that was trapped inside all those old songs has been released. It's all right up front where you can get to it. Anyone who had the pleasure of seeing the Costello solo tour in '84 will already know that there is more the man than the records have ever captured before. Before now, that is. The music and style are back to the basics, sort of moving ahead by reaching back.
If you have been a real fan all along, rejoice. If there has always been something that has kept you from liking him, it's time to try again. Whatever you do, check out the Costello Show. And do me (and him) a favor. Whenever you hear people talking (and they will be) about the new record by Elvis Costello, politely remind them that it's not Elvis anymore. It's Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus and The Costello Show.