In the early Sixties, American music experienced what was termed the "British invasion," which injected a much-needed vitality into a rather dismal period. The Rolling Stones were raw. The Beatles were melodic.
The Who and the Kinks fell somewhere in between those polar sounds. The invasion eventually spawned a wide range of innovative creations.
Now, in the late seventies, Britain is once again pulsating with intense energy, scratching and clawing at an overly complacent music world.
The "New Wave" is hitting the States in much the same manner as the earlier invasion. The "Wave" is as much a revolt against the rock establishment itself as anything else, an establishment that has grown cold and calculating.
Hits of the establishment are produced in assembly line fashion, making tasty little songs that slide down easily, but never leave anything to chew on.
One "New Wave" artist who will not hit the shore and slide unnoticed into the sea is Elvis Costello. It is this artist to whom I give much credit for converting me into a "born again" rock fan.
(I considered calling Charles Colson to find out how to cash in on this type of phenomena, but decided that it was much too personal.)
As soon as Costello took the stage of a local night spot, it was easy to give him a superior rating in visual effects.
To begin with, I was greatly relieved that he didn't spit fire or resemble an enemy of the "Enterprise."
Costello looked the way Woody Allen might have back in 1956. He wore a second-hand black suit, a small knotted necktie, dark green shirt, scuffed shoes, and conspicuous-looking black glasses.
What made the scene totally absurd was that the man dressed like a pussy willow, yet postured himself defiantly while spraying venom-tinged lyrics through his mike.
How refreshing it was to see the avant-garde infiltrate the "antiseptic rock" of the seventies.
The music of Costello is very difficult to categorize. It is safe to say, however, that this man from a working class background plays intense rock n' roll, with special emphasis on dark, dream-like lyrics.
His music at times flirts with the mundane. But that is partly where his point lies. In the midst of his angry rage, the point is all too clear. Life, especially the urbane, is becoming increasingly android-like.
As Costello says, "Welcome to the working week... I hope it don't kill you... Welcome to the working week."
The one true masterpiece on Costello's first album My Aim is True, is the song "Watching the Detectives."
The song begins with a mysterious bass line, reminiscent of the old Peter Gunn opening. What follows is a story that intertwines the relationship between a woman and her TV screen.
Costello weaves the reality in the woman's mind with the fiction on her screen, attempting to catch a glimpse of the subliminal interplay that actually exists between the two.
If you want some music that you can sink your teeth into, listen to Elvis Costello. In fact, you may choke on it. But at least you will know you're alive.