Buddy Holly died over twenty years ago but, one suspects, that if anybody had cloned with his chromosomes and botched the genetic gamble he'd have ended up with nothing worse than the not insignificant lookalike of Elvis Costello.
Costello, too, it would seem, is destined to leave his mark, with two top class albums, My Aim is True and the haunting This Year's Model, now being underlined for quality by Armed Forces, recently released.
This album, with its picture postcards of Mickey Mouse, free E.P. and elephant photos on the cover, started out with the working title of Emotional Fascism but, I suppose, those people who had that dreadful promotional advertisement you now see on television in mind just knew that the buying public aren't ready for that sort of title for another ten to fifteen years. Which is where Elvis Costello — former computer operator and son of a former lead singer with the Joe Loss Orchestra — comes in. He takes yesterday's fashions and instruments, today's themes and cliches, tomorrow's themes and cliches and turns them into tunes that you'll be humming in the year 2009 when World War Three has long ended just as yer mothers and fathers get to humming Vera Lynn's "White Cliffs of Dover" every time that good ol' World War Two is talked about.
Costello has al pre-occupation with fascism in everyday situations of life, whether on a personal, political or psychological level. On a political level he can be revastating. "Oliver's Army" is the title of the single taken from the album, seemingly dedicated to a fascist we know well of in this country, one Ollie Cromwell. But the theme doesn't stop at that ... it attacks the gun and guff patriot mentality which we've all been subject to in the glorifying of violence and armies right through our history. I've been surprised that a song with the distinct political comment: "if you're outa luck / and you're outa work/ we could send you to Johannesburg," has got the airplay it has got knowing how small-minded and insecure our radio producers are at times. The decision to release "Oliver's Army" as the promotional single is, again, something I can't understand because there are better songs on the album. Two which stand out are "Green Shirt" and "Two Little Hitlers."
"Green Shirt" is the best thing Costello has ever done with the exception of "Alison" (which I'm biased about). It opens with a swirling organ and menacing, even threatening drum before Costello states his case: "Never said I was a stool-pigeon, never said I was a diplomat / everybody's under suspicion, but you don't wanna hear about that," before the sound of the organ ushers itself in again like a requiem for the Reichs of the 21st century and that menacing drum represents itself as the monotone ever-threatening fascist footstep hovering over all our lives just as Costello begins to sing: "you tease, you flirt / you shine all the buttons on your green shirt." "Green Shirt", is, in my opinion, as much about the fascism you hear from the emotional fascists on the terraces and in the stands at football matches or on the platform at political rallies as it is about armies and their power. You know the type I mean; he's not drunk but he'll stand there and shout "go home, ye bums," or "the referee is a bastard" and then you'll hear the slow handclap begin. It's the same at political rallies: "Up Dev," and "Cosgrave Puts the Country First," followed by the resounding roar. The slow handclap and resounding roar are the recreation of fascist footsteps to give us that feeling of power in our lives which undoubtedly the German Nazi party leaders must have felt at their political height and the slogans we all shout and sing are only the "Seig Heil" substitute slogans we'd use to rule a Reich we'll never rule. That last observation has come from a clinically detached observation of football fans and political people over the past year or so. I'm not sure where Elvis Costello picked up his ideas but he's obviously also closely watching people in their everyday situations.
"Green Shirt" contains, such thoughtful observations as: "somewhere there's a shorthand typist taking seconds over minutes" (the fascist boss) and later "cut off all identifying labels / Before they put you on the torture table" (the fascist as a failure determined to bring everybody else down to his level).
The other classy song on this album is "Two Little Hitlers." The "Jesus of Cool," Nick Lowe (who produces Graham Parker and the Rumour) had "Little Hitler" on the singles market last year but this is by no means an uptempo top-ranking reply in verse. Instead, Costello becomes a writer of short story in verse; an indefinable art but an art nevertheless. In his observation of two people in a relationship Costello draws the conclusion in verse: "two little Hitlers fought it out until /one little Hitler does the other one's will."
The rest of the tracks on this album pale by comparison but the most of them, like "Accidents Will Happen" and "Goon Squad," "Senior Service" and "The Big Boys," which hits hard at the psychological fascism in society which dictates that parents thinking dominates that of their offspring in the early and most formative part of their lives; at a time when beings (although children) are at their emotional, unflawed though largely unawakened peaks. Everything that children do, even in innocence, is put down by parents until the compromise is reached "wait until you're a little older"; a fascist fallacy which recurs right through life from the cradle to the grave. In the "Big Boys," Costello sings: "everything is so provocative / very, very temporary" and then "you try so hard to be like the big boys." It reminds that Malcolm Muggeridge once said that we "lived in the age of megalomania and erotamania, the clenched fist and the phallus, the age of Hitler and Hugh Hefner."
Costello ties the themes of things that happened in Berlin, of things that happened in a bedroom so well together in a documentary on political and personal repression. If there were a Nobel Prize for foresight based on insight Elvis Costello would be this year's winner. This record then should be carrying a Government health warning. Too much listening could change your mind about what you've put up with, it could change your thinking and you might even come to enjoy yourself. It can be said, though, at last we're getting the true music of liberation and the only evidence of bondage here is between clear thinking and good music.