It seems that Elvis Costello, the archetypical new waver, has gone genre-jumping again. On his fourth effort, Get Happy, he successfully recreated the Stax/Volt R & B sound. Throughout his recording career, Costello has dabbled with reggae, rockabilly, and country & western styles.
Months of rumors about Costello's visit to Nashville to record an all-country & western LP were verified when Almost Blue was recently recorded. His previous country-flavored efforts; "Stranger In The House," "Radio Sweetheart," and "Different Finger," were fine songs, but the idea of an entire album of similar material sounded potentially tedious.
The import version of Almost Blue has an obnoxious label affixed to the cover that reads; "Warning. This Record Contains All Country Music, Which May Cause A Violent Reaction Among Narrow Minded People." It's as if Costello's record company expects your disapproval, but dares you to buy the record anyway.
Almost Blue begins with the Hank Williams rockabilly-flavored "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used To Do)?" I have a sneaking suspicion that this tune is Costello's premature question to fans and critics who are displeased by his latest offering. Although Costello wrote none of the songs, he did choose some material that draws parallels to his personal life. "Success" concerns the split of a married couple due to the attainment of wealth and fame by one of the spouses (Costello was divorced just as his second record, This Year's Model, was topping the charts). "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" and "Sittin' and Thinkin' " are possibly explanations of his knock-down fight with Bonnie Bramlett. "When I'm drinkin', I ain't nobody's friend," chortles Costello in "Sittin'."
The single, "A Good Year For The Roses," is by far the best composition of the lot. The lush strings, backing female vocals by Nashville Edition, and pedal steel guitar by John McFee (who played on My Aim Is True with his group, Clover), blend with an articulate, soft-voiced Elvis to create some very mellow music, not dissimilar to the stuff heard in a dentist's office. The vocalizing is reminiscent of the older (and more successful) Costello songs, "New Lace Sleeves," "Secondary Modern," and "Alison." Unfortunately, "Roses" is probably the only bright spot on the disc. The remaining songs are one melancholy tragedy after another; unfaithful wives and husbands, and dejected nights alone, done with a C&W instrumental drawl.
Almost Blue should be brought to a Country & Western music aficionado to see if he likes it. Maybe if Costello had shuffled these tunes, one or two at a time, onto his forthcoming albums, they would have been enjoyed individually. But collectively...
Costello has been too much of an innovator to let his talent stagnate like this. After he realizes the financial, if not creative, suicide he is committing with Almost Blue, he'll come up with a new work that will prompt his fans and critics to "love him like they used to do."