"I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused," sang Elvis Costello in a song from his first album, My Aim is True. He didn't really mean it. He stayed disgusted for a long time, and the songs on the album showed it.
On the cover he was pictured hunched over his guitar, a baleful knock-kneed presence in an austerity chic three piece suit and outsize hornrims. Behind him was the message, 'Elvis is King', spelled out over and over again on small black and white squares. He had only been performing as Elvis Costello for two months when the record was released but he got away with it on Presley home ground.
My Aim is True was the top import album of the year in the United States, and jingoistic Rolling Stone voted it one of the top five albums.
Elvis Costello (real name Declan McManus) had been working in a pub band called Flip City, touring clubs as D. P. Costello and pestering record companies with demo tapes for several years before he answered a talent ad. for the recently formed Stiff Records in 1977. Elvis Costello was born.
His first album was released in mid-1977. On the basis of its immediate success, Costello left his job as a computer operator, formed a backing band, the Attractions, and began to tour.
He became the most successful of the undersized Stiff trinity — Costello, Nick Lowe and Ian Dury. His next album This Year's Model, was one of those rare second albums that lives up to the promise of its predecessor.
At first, he sang and wrote about frustration and rage and the desire for revenge. He twisted words and expressions, and was almost pathologically addicted to puns. His lyrics mixed cheap sneers with sharp insights and cynical poses with outraged indignation.
His namesake, Presley, had crooned "Love Me Tender," while Costello saw the emotion as no more than a transaction: "Love for Tender" was what he sang about.
Some of his attitudes seemed perverse, and some of his anger merely stylised self-pity. In his third album, Armed Forces (originally titled "Emotional Fascism"), he extended his cynicism into wider, more political areas.
But the resentful myopic tinge had begun to pall. His filth album, Trust, presented an Elvis Costello with an extended vocal range. Sometimes he sneered, sometimes he sounded like Frank Sinatra.
He had always been known as country music fan, and admirer of the singer George Jones. He had often included a country song or two in his repertoire, even in his earliest days. Last year he went all the way, to Nashville (where else?) and recorded Almost Blue, an album of country classics.
His new album will be released next month, and reports df recent European concerts indicate that his country foray is over for the time being.
Elvis Costello will be appearing with the Attractions at the Palais Theatre on 25 May.