Melody Maker, March 11, 1978

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Melody Maker

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Elvis on revenge


Allan Jones

This Year's Model — and it's difficult to believe from the maturity of the writing and the performance that it's only The Man's second album! — is an achievement so comprehensive, so inspired, that it exhausts superlatives. It promotes its author to the foremost ranks of contemporary rock writers. Clear out of sight of most of his rivals and comparisons (so long, Bruce baby), Elvis Costello's prodigious talent, we can see in retrospect, was only superficially exposed on his first album.

While it is true that Aim's specific themes of revenge, jealousy, infidelity, deceit and betrayal are central to this album's most powerful songs — "Lip Service," "Lipstick Vogue" and "Living In Paradise" — these obsessions are forced even more ruthlessly into the spotlight. And, running parallel to these preoccupations, is the vague paranoia and unease of "The Beat" and "Night Rally" which hardens to vicious attack on "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea," a virulent indictment of the superficialities of style and fashion: "Everybody has new orders / Be a good girl, kiss the warders."

Nick Lowe's production is easily his finest hour, a firm but sympathetic treatment of the songs, and embellishments that are carefully considered. It brings Elvis' sneering vocal into dramatic close-up — his voice throughout has tremendous presence — as the Attractions, with characteristic razorblade cool, slice across the mix. The themes of infidelity and humiliation are pursued with relentless vigour and imagination. "Hand In Hand" — which has a backward tape fade-in redolent of 10CC and a gorgeously rich and infectious melody — seems to propose love as a criminal conspiracy: ("Don't ask me to apologise. I won't ask you to forgive me / If I'm gonna go down, you're gonna come with me").

The extraordinary "Living In Paradise" is set against a neurotic calypso backdrop, with Elvis phrasing his lyrics with a flippant, disquieting glee. The song unfolds as an epic of suspicion, jealousy and revenge, replete with the kind of dangerous images that elevated "I'm Not Angry" to such chilling peaks: "Later in the evening when the arrangements are made. I'll be at the keyhole outside your bedroom door." sings Elvis, voice twitching and kicking over the jerking rhythm. "You think that I don't know the boy that you're touching / but I'll be at the video and I will be watching."

Sex is again the theme of "This Year's Girl," a brilliant exposition of the hypocrisy that can be provoked by the exploitation of unattainable objects. Elvis flicks off taut guitar sequences over Steve Naive's swirling keyboard shrouds and a central percussion motif that exaggerates the mounting tension.

A similar abrasiveness characterises the paranoid rush of the epic "The Beat," which follows. The fierce tango arrangement has been retained from the live prototype that Elvis has been performing since he formed the Attractions, but the fury has been tempered in favour of a more insidious pulse. Steve Naive's icy keyboard interpolations (imagine a crazed hybrid of Garth Hudson and Can's Irmin Schmidt, if you can) shiver nervously behind Elvis's alarm-central lyrics.

The standard of the writing, where the penetration of the language matches the vaulting hysteria of the performance, is relaxed only twice — midway through side one — with "Pump It Up" and "Little Triggers." The former is a routine rocker (I'm sure Nick Lowe told me that this is one of the tracks on which the Clash's Mick Jones played — "to Keef it up" — but he's not much in evidence), while "Triggers" employs an overly familiar ballad scheme with a predictable melody, a fault that is not overcome by the rather intriguing lyrics. Still, things are quickly whacked back into shape with "You Belong To Me," which brings the side to a roaring conclusion, and by the complete magnificence of side two which includes "Hand In Hand," "Chelsea" — dealt with already — as well as "Lip Service," "Lipstick Vogue" and the masterful "Night Rally."

"Lip Service" features an especially deft Lowe production job, with acoustic guitars skating beneath Elvis' lead vocal and handclaps punctuating the chorus. "Lipstick Vogue" is altogether more violent, with Pete Thomas' drums careening from speaker to speaker (here recalling the intro to the live version of "Mystery Dance"), and Elvis' scatter-chord guitar knocking the song along at a slashing pace. The arrangement is unusually powerful and imaginative. The instruments, having hit one furious-peak, fall away behind Elvis, then rise again to a final crescendo so deranged that this listener is left quite breathless. Elvis and Basher, however, have left until last the album's most lethal broadside.

"Night Rally" is a disturbing comment upon the popularity and potential menace of the National Front that achieves its resonance not from any sensational sloganeering but from the genuine apprehension conveyed by Lowe's discreet atmosphere of impending disaster and Elvis's desolate lyric: "They're putting all your names in the forbidden book / I know what they're doing but I don't want to look / You think they're so dumb, think they're so funny / But wait until they get you running to their Night Rally / Night Rally." It is fitting that such an important song concludes such an impressive album.

This Year's Model. This Year's Masterpiece. The best thing I've heard since the last best thing I heard. Etc. Etc. Etc.

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Melody Maker, March 11, 1978


Allan Jones reviews This Year's Model.


Stanley Mieses reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions with opening act Willie Alexander, Thursday, February 23, 1978, The Ledge, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ.

Images

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Clipping and photo.


Cold for Elvis


Stanley Mieses

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Past the polluted river, past the swamps, the marshes by which the numerous chemical plants spew expensive poisons into the water and air — these killer factories, which at night appear like erector set ocean liners shrouded in death-smoke — the rutted and dreamless New Jersey super-highway led us to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, insidiously located only 40 minutes out of New York, beyond the wisps of the network of belching pipes.

Not far enough. There are no kicks on Route 46. Willie Alexander and Elvis Costello would concur. After a decent booking in the Capitol Theatre in Asbury Park was cancelled, the scene of their closest-to-NYC date shifted to a rather cold meeting hall on the campus of Rutgers University.

There were no seats, but despite strong efforts by both bands, everyone remained seated on the floor. Willie Alexander's set was received with increasing consternation. It was like watching a comedian tell jokes that no one understood. The students drank cheap wine (which costs as much as decent wine, only its heavily promoted to these knee-jerks), wore goose-down vests over flannel shirts and combat boots, and had no idea what skinny Willie Alexander was doing rubbing his backside up and down on the mike-stand.

The Boom Boom Rand did their damnedest, but Willie just violated the Joisey sensibility. To a degree, the audience could have been reacting to something I felt about Willie — that to a degree he's too much of a parodist of rockers past and not all that original — but I think he was given a cool reception because the audience found him rude. He'll go over very well in Britain, I'm sure. There's an innate intelligence working up there, so Willie will have his moments.

Costello was treated with more familiarity, but it wasn't until 30 or 40 minutes into his set that Elvis finally could not handle playing to a bad oil painting anymore. "This isn't King Lear, you know." he told the crowd of 700 "We're not in the theatre. Now get up!" And the knee-jerks responded. As usual (it seems). Costello played a wholly. different set, in which he not only mixed up the order and selection of songs, but also fiddled with the tempo and vocal arrangements of several of his better recorded numbers

His command of the crowd was evidenced nut by the volume of their response but by the moments of total silence he managed to reach when he hushed the band and just baited the fans with a long, expressionless stare. Stand-out numbers in Costello's set were a slow version of "Less Than Zero," and two new pieces, "You're Not Another Mouth In The Lipstick Vogue," and "This Year's Girl," both rousing rockers. Willie "Loco" Alexander and Elvis Costello are currently in the midst of a middle-American tour.



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Cover.


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