Mohave Daily Miner, April 18, 1989
Spike makes point for Costello, if you can grasp
"They don't always grasp everything," said Elvis Costello to an Associated Press interviewer. He was speaking about critics. "They're saturated with free music to the point where they can only listen to eight bars of it. The people actually putting their money down to buy the record have a different relationship with it."
From the rest of the article, it was painfully obvious that the writer he was speaking to fell into this class. She couldn't have listened to the record which was being discussed, Costello's Spike. For starters, she never talked about how any song sounded, what any song said.
But I did listen to the record. And a lot more than eight bars. I went out and spent the money for a CD (although Warner Brothers did later send us a copy of Spike when we requested photos), listened closely and took notes.
So let's look at Elvis' statement again "They don't always grasp everything." Okay, check this out. This is the last verse of "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror”:
A stripping puppet on a liquid stick gets into it pretty thick / A butterfly drinks a turtle's tears, but how do you know he really needs it? / 'Cos a butterfly feeds on a dead monkey's hand / Jesus wept he felt abandoned / You're spellbound baby there's no doubting that / Did you ever see a stare like a Persian cat?
And he wonders why people don't always grasp everything!
Maybe I'm just plain stupid as a doorknob, but I listened to this record three times and I still don't have the foggiest idea of what this guy is talking about in this song.
About some of the other cuts (of which there are a total of 15 — you have to give Costello credit for giving you your money's worth):
"...This Town..." Paul McCartney and Roger McGuinn are both on this cut. In a Los Angeles Times interview, Costello notes the two never met each other in the recording process. It shows. This is a disjointed song, the lyrics of which make little (if any) more sense than "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror."
"Let Him Dangle" — I actually liked this one, a story offering Costello's views on capital punishment.
"Veronica" — Another McCartney collaboration, and probably the most commercial song on the disc. It even has a melody, an area which the first four cuts were weak on.
"God's Comic" — Not a bad little number, but the chorus begins: "Now I'm dead, now I'm dead, now I'm dead, now I'm dead, now I'm dead." Great stuff, eh? Just the kind of thing all impressionable teenagers should be listening to.
"Chewing Gum" — The story of a mail-order bride who doesn't listen to her perverted husband because she puts chewing gum in her ear. The song is cluttered with discordant horns.
"Tramp the Dirt Down" — An insightful, political number that bashes Margaret Thatcher. The content is great but the song is destroyed by lack of melody and an uninspiring vocal track by Costello. Also, liner notes credit Marc Ribot with "distant sound."
"Stalin Malone" — If you look at the liner notes, you're going to get real confused here. This song has more lyrics than any other song on the disc but it's an instrumental. Credit the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (from New Orleans) for doing a great job.
As much as I disliked the first half of this album, I enjoyed the second half with equal vigor. The lyrics made sense; the songs had melody; and Costello managed to do some of the vocals in a manner that was actually pleasant to listen to, unlike most of the first half of this record.
"Satellite" — The story of a guy sitting and watching porno movies on cable done to music that sounds like the "slow dance" from a high school sock hop. All it needs is three women in the background doing "Oohs" and "Aahs."
"Miss Macbeth" — This one's about a lady who either delves into black magic or is just the butt of the community's evil jokes. The music sounds like a cross between The Beatles' Abbey Road and something by the group Madness.
"Any King's Shilling" — Another political number, this time about a father who doesn't want his son to go off to war. Features prominent acoustic guitar and fiddle. Elvis goes country, sort of.
I also thought I heard Paul McCartney again on "Pads, Paws and Claws," but it turned out to be Jerry Scheff, who has copped a lot of McCartney's licks. Same thing on "Coal Train Robberies" (which is on the CD but not on the album) but this time Scheff is also playing a Hofner bass, adding to the similarity.
So let's see. Altogether, I only really hated four out of fifteen songs. That leaves six that I really liked and another five that were all right, but I wasn't wild about. This is still more likeable songs than you usually get on an album, making it worth the investment. It's just too bad the real zingers aren't at the end of the disc instead of at the beginning.
During the course of the Times interview, it was brought out that this was Costello's "first foray into comedy records," Maybe those are the songs! don't like. I just don't like comedy, I guess.
Funny thing, though — I always liked Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin. Maybe that's different.
Costello also told the AP interviewer this:
"When you perform, it's the chance to do a song in a different way than the recording. So you end up with a totally different sound. There aren't any of my songs that I'm humiliated to play. So I'm not editing them out of my life. However, there are songs I don't like and others that I would rather play."
He laughs. "But I'm not telling which ones."
That's okay, Elvis. I think we can figure it out for ourselves.
Mohave Daily Miner, April 18, 1989
Photo by Keith Morris.