Melody Maker, January 8, 1983

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Melody Maker


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Colin Irwin

Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Royal Albert Hall, London

One day, one day, the tolerance level of some poor long-suffering music loving sod is going to snap completely and he'll go out at dead of night and detonate a bomb under the Albert. Believe me, he'll be doing us all a favour. The sound ricocheting round the huge emporium like a warehouse of exploding shrapnel, the army of moronic jobsworths, the arm-wrestling for a space at the bar, the constant exhausting strain of trying to decipher even the simplest song introduction, the complete impossibility of following a lyric... I was tempted to do the job myself.

Yet, furthering his bid to become Frank Sinatra, Costello was back there a year on, blending into the pomp in his bow-tie and new slim-line elegance, guiding us all towards maturity and responsibility. No orchestra this time, but everything else was subtly geared to the idea of Costello as the all-round family entertainer.

There was Elvis the solo performer, alone in the spotlight with an acoustic guitar; Elvis the rock 'n' roll prophet, delving deep into reserves of passions and profundity; Elvis the pop star, coyly plugging his latest album; Elvis the country pretender, reminding me of Almost Blue and the celebrated excursion to Nashville; Elvis the crooner, standing bolt upright next to the piano, clutching the mike to his breast while Steve Nieve stretched the keys to new heights of delicate intricacy; and finally there was Elvis in party (party) mood demolishing the post-Christmas blues and bringing back the band plus horns for a farewell knees-up.

It was all so controlled, so right... I just wondered what the hell he was doing in such a decrepit, impersonal pile of bricks like the Albert, and where on earth he would logically turn up next? The Morecambe & Wise Show? Celebrity Squares? the Royal Command Performance? Princess Diana's birthday party?

The faithful naturally held no such reservations. This was an event and it held no place for critical sniping. Elvis swept them along in a wave of Messiah-like command and you had to admire the ease of his control over them. He certainly shouldn't be condemned for his lust for adventure and his boldness, but at times he treads dangerous water without the slightest flicker of concern from his flock of disciples. This blinkered adulation allows, for example, the pomposity of his curious set at the piano, and the epic overblown arrangements of some of his new material. At such moments, only the innovatory brilliance of Nieve's keyboard work (without doubt the star of the show as far as I'm concerned) and the versatile excellence of the Attractions in general saved Costello from total absurdity. When the Attractions strike out with a vengeance, as they did in fits and starts at the Albert, then it's easy to be caught up in the emotional frenzy of it all.

During "Shabby Doll" a guy in a raincoat was even moved to leap on stage, knock Elvis backwards and grab the mike... Elvis looked tickled pink at this isolated outburst of hysteria. Costello's magic is best observed in his radical reappraisals of his own best-known works. A beautifully sedate rendering of "Alison," a hugely dramatic "Watching The Detectives," a raucous "Head To Toe," a mysterious jangling "Clubland," a menacing "Shot With His Own Gun," a bubbling "Good Year For The Roses." Yet even here his voice sounded shot and the overall effect vaguely uneasy.

Maybe I just have a blind spot about that voice anyway. He always seems to be trying so hard to be blistering and intense, and where others unquestioningly worship, I find my own conviction in the man severely lacking. Anymore uncomfortable shams like this laboriously contrived charade at the Albert and he'll have dug his own grave.

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Melody Maker, January 8, 1983

Colin Irwin reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions with The Imperial Horns, Monday, December 27, 1982, Royal Albert Hall, London.


1983-01-08 Melody Maker photo 01 ts.jpg
Photo by Tom Sheehan.

1983-01-08 Melody Maker cover.jpg


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