When Elvis Costello performs at Kirby Field House on April 30, Lafayette students will get a chance to see one of pop music's most compelling artists. An unparalleled songwriter and an intense performer, Costello reigns as the single most influential figure in new-wave rock-and-roll over the past ten years.
Legend has it that Costello, a former computer operator, made his first public appearance when he crashed a convention of record company executives armed with his guitar. His first album, My Aim Is True, came out in 1976 and showed him to be an accomplished songwriter and lyricist. Solid but unspectacular musical backup was provided by veteran bar hand Clover (minus singer Huey Lewis, who went on to a solid career of his own). The American version of the album contained his first song with his regular band the Attractions, the disorienting rock reggae fusion "Watching the Detectives."
His first full record with the Attractions, This Year's Model, is a milestone of his career. The Attractions match Elvis' scathing lyrics of sexual tension and frustration with dense, chaotic music to create a powerful album. "No Action," "This Year's Girl" and "Lipstick Vogue" are just some of the highlights. Armed Forces (original title: Emotional Fascism) shifts from personal to political themes on such songs as "Oliver's Army" and "Two Little Hiders."
Costello's next records attempted to shift the emphasis from his neurotic public image to his music. Get Happy!!! crams 20 Motown/Stay influenced songs on one disc. It includes rousing covers of the Merseybeats' "I Stand Accused" and Sam and Dave's "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" plus many excellent originals such as "Love for Tender," "New Amsterdam" and "Riot Act." Trust is generally regarded as a transitional album, but still has some of his best songs: "Clubland," "New Lace Sleeves" and "Big Sister's Clothes."
After going to Nashville to record an album of country music standards, Elvis returned to pop with Imperial Bedroom. Rock and roll only by association, this record saw him craft songs in a Tin Pan Alley style aided by new producer Geoff Emerick. Highlights include "Man out of Time" and "You Little Fool."
Punch the Clock and Goodbye Cruel World saw Elvis losing some of the edge that made his early work so fascinating. He still showed superior command of songcraft on numbers like "The Only Flame in Town," "Everyday I Write the Book" and "Shipbuilding." 1986 saw a dramatic return to form with two very different albums. The first, King of America, was Costello's first since My Aim is True without the Attractions. Producer T-Bone Burnett used simple spare arrangements to focus on songwriting, and the result was uniformly excellent Blood and Chocolate saw Elvis reunited with the Attractions and producer Nick Lowe, and manages to catch the spark of earlier work.
Costello's recent concerts have been widely varied with different backup bands, audience request nights, and the "Spectacular Spinning Songbook." Whatever happens on April 30, we should be in for quite a treat.