Michigan Daily, January 6, 1978

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Elvis Costello: vicious rocker plays
with fire and doesn't miss


Alan Rubenfeld

Once every several years, an obscure young singer releases a record whose music leaves an indelible mark on the spirits of its listeners. These artists include Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, and Bruce Springsteen. Now a new performer earns the right to be admitted to this select club — Elvis Costello.

Costello's album, My Aim Is True (Columbia JZ 35037) was the most powerful debut album of last year. He combines the essence of rock 'n' roll with acrid, poignant lyrics to create an emotional collage of a man disenchanted with the drudgery of modern existence; his songs deal with the frustrated attempts of an individual to cope with a heartless world. Elvis is a product of the 1970's. These tunes seem to bear the burden of his soul and the albatross of bitterness on his guitar. He accomplishes this through his utilization of primitive rock rhythms coupled with jittery guitar solos.

Well, who is this Costello character anyway? He comes from obscurity, and has conspicuously avoided publicity concerning his past until recently, when a British Journalist got him sufficiently inebriated to reveal that his real name is Declan, he is married and has a child, and his former occupation was that of a computer operator. His appearance strikes one as a cross between a disheveled philosophy graduate overdosed on Nietzsche and Buddy Holly on amphetamines. Different.


Each of Costello's compositions reaffirms his musical individuality. Every cut is between two and three minutes in length; usually they are uptempo rockers, coupled with spartan yet entirely effective instrumentation. Just listen to "Miracle Man," "Mystery Dance," and "Blame It On Cain" for examples of this ingenious and primal pub rock. "No Dancing" is a throwback to Phil Spector-style production, with the patented Ronettes "Be My Baby" heartbeat on the bass drum. Quite effective. "Watching the Detectives", a reggae number, demonstrates lyrically why this world is not conceived for such thinkers as Costello, with his embittered, desperate vocals.

But the best two songs on the album are "Alison" and "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes." "Alison" is a tribute to an ex-flame he returns to visit, only to find her happily fulfilled in marriage, while he remains his frustrated self. "Red Shoes" is a bittersweet rocker whose infectious chorus and verse offers a prime example of Costello's inventive lyricism:

I said "I'm felt so happy, I could die."
She said "Drop dead" and then left with another guy.
That's what you get when you go chasing after vengeance.
And since you got me punctured it spinned my senses

"I'm Not Angry" contains some cutting remarks to another past remembrance:

You're upstairs with your boyfriend
While I'm left here to listen (Angry)
I hear you whispering his name
I hear the stutter of ignition (Angry)
I can hear you whispering as I crept by your door
So you found some other joker who could please you more

There is not one song on My Aim Is True that does not meet the standards Costello has set for himself so soon. The album is an undeniable gem of the New Wave.

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The Michigan Daily, January 6, 1978


Alan Rubenfeld reviews My Aim Is True.

Images

1978-01-06 Michigan Daily clipping 01.jpg
Clipping.

1978-01-06 Michigan Daily page 05.jpg
Page scan.

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