Melbourne Age, November 5, 2010

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And now for something different

Andrew Murfett

Elvis Costello cherishes the freedom to explore diverse musical styles and themes. His latest album is influenced by the global financial crisis, writes Andrew Murfett.

The way Declan Patrick MacManus sees it, 39 years into his career, the music business needs him more than he needs it. Yes, the man best known as Elvis Costello makes albums with extraordinary regularity - he this week released National Ransom, remarkably, his 33rd - but performing is what he deems his job.

"It's an ongoing process just to play," he says from New York, which, along with Vancouver, is where he spends his down time with his wife, jazz singer Diana Krall. (The two married in 2003; it is Costello's third marriage, and they have twin four-year-olds, Frank and Dexter.)

"My wife and I are both on the road a lot," he says. "Vancouver is where we return to lie down between stints in work."

Aside from the new album, 2010 has been an improbably productive year for the 56-year-old. He has performed regularly in Europe and North America in two divergent bands, the "rock" group the Imposters and the bluegrass-inspired Sugarcanes, with whom he is returning to Australia early next year. Not to mention touring with classical ensemble the Brodsky Quartet, orchestras and solo shows at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

"It's a really strong freedom I have," he says. "The shows I did last November in Melbourne, say, at the Palais, I felt like I could go all over the place. I didn't worry if people remembered songs."

Asked if he is concerned fans might not be satisfied with this, he blanches.

"I'm always leaning to the future in my sets," he says. "It's contrary to what people imagine, which is me just coming out and playing the 'hits'. There has to be a reason to play it."

With National Ransom being his 11th album in 10 years, the obvious question, then, is what motivates him to produce so much new music?

"I don't know how to answer that question," he says, warily. "This is what I do. I went to Nashville a couple of years ago, with the intention of making an acoustic guitar record, and enlisting what became the Sugarcanes …"

The album's title is certainly provocative. The material often mines the global financial crisis, and Costello describes the ransom in question as both emotional and spiritual.

"There is a bunch of people holding themselves to ransom," he says. "If you think about it for a moment, this whole economic system requires a lot of people to conspire. It's not just about the bad guys who got greedy. It's about all of us going, 'We want something we can't afford and don't care.'"

His tone suddenly grows incredulous. "You know the orange I'm eating? I don't care what they paid the guy to pick it. In fact, you better go home to the country you came from, because we don't want you here anyway. And suddenly, you're dressed in red and black and you're killing people. It doesn't take very long to get to that desperation."

While quick to assert that he is not predicting that the world is on the road to catastrophe, he adds that songs can give us a reason to have hope. "Even when you sing about really sad, tragic or desperate things, if you let that out, it's no longer weighing you down."

Asked to reflect on his career, in particular his first two incendiary albums from 1977-78, My Aim Is True and This Year's Model, he politely declines.

Still, his recollections around writing and recording arguably his best song, I Don't Want To Go to Chelsea, remain clear.

"I was working at an office and it came to me as a play that had been associated with fashion," he says.

"It was always something I had mixed feelings about. It was a feeling about the unease people have with being out of step at one time or another in their life. That's all. It was very easy.

"I wrote the song with the model of that stop-time riff like Can't Explain or Clash City Rockers and then got into the studio and the Attractions and started breaking down the rhythm a little bit and the next thing you know, you have that record. It was one of the best ensemble recordings from the early days."

As for his legacy, don't expect him to be too sentimental.

"You could throw a rock in the air and hit a bunch of people that haven't heard my name and don't give a shit about any song I've written, much less feel that I'm defined by anything other than what I've said," he says, blithely.

"Every record I've released has been different and has found some sort of audience. I'm fine. The record industry is in a lot more trouble than I am. I can go out there and play. I don't need their help. They need mine."

National Ransom is out now.

Tags: Declan Patrick MacManusNational RansomNew YorkVancouverDiana KrallThe ImpostersThe SugarcanesThe Brodsky QuartetRoyal Festival HallPalais TheatreNashvilleMy Aim Is TrueThis Year's Model(I Don't Want To Go To) ChelseaThe Attractions

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The Age, November 5, 2010

Andrew Murfett interviews Elvis Costello following the release of National Ransom.


2011-07-13 Charleston City Paper photo 01 jo.jpg
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