Montreal Gazette, April 27, 1978

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Punk gives way to power and new Elvis is a leader


David Farrell

With punk rock dying and disco music melding into the mainstream of pop, critics and musicologists are looking for new minds in the medium.

"Power pop" appears to be the most promising entry, a style that blends chunky rock chords with funky, uncomplicated rhythms and a predominant melody line, usually played by a rhythm guitar or keyboard instrument. Among its practitioners are Foreigner, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Elvis Costello.

It goes without saying that Britain is in the forefront of power pop and North American bands are quickly adopting the sound.

Of the three acts mentioned. Costello — who performs at Theatre St. Denis tomorrow night — offers the most interesting story. A former computer operator for Elizabeth Arden, the 22-year-old Londoner is married with one child and comes on like the anti-hero figure of a contemporary novel.

Born Declan McManus, he is a look-alike of the late Buddy Holly but his songs lack the romanticism offered by the Texas crooner. They are full of the bittersweet realities of alienation and rejection and evoke the British working man's plight.

As a performer. Costello is a master of the deadpan grimace behind his black horn-rimmed glasses, locking his legs together as he strums an oversize guitar. His hands gesture almost spasmodically and an ill-fitting suit gives him the appearance of a drunkard.

It is difficult to dig beneath these surface impressions because Costello is reluctant to talk in interviews and tight-lipped about his past.

His first album, My Aim is True, was done for Stiff Records, the British firm which earned notoriety for its offbeat talent signings and slogan: "If you're dead, we'll sign you."

The record became an underground hit and launched him on a tour with porn-rocker Ian Drury, The Damned and Ian Lowe, formerly of Ducks Deluxe. The tour was recorded and will shortly be released on this continent under the title of Live Stiffs.

Costello proved his ability to sell himself last summer when he performed on the pavement outside the London hotel where CBS Records was holding its annual convention.

A bobby hauled him off to jail for a couple of hours as a public nuisance but some of the conventioneers must have been impressed. Within a month, Costello's name was on the CBS roster.

Having just completed his first North American tour and with My Aim is True doing exceptionally well on the Billboard charts, the next test is the release by CBS of his second album, cynically titled This Year's Model.

It is doubtful that Costello will become a media darling like Rod Stewart or Leif Garrett and the mournful quality of his songs will make it difficult for him to crack the AM radio band. But his oddball personna has endeared him to his fans.

Elizabeth Arden may not treasure him as her roving ambassador but he is possibly the most significant new face from Britain since the punk craze died down.

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Montreal Gazette, April 27, 1978


David Farrell profiles Elvis Costello.

(Variations of this piece ran in Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Journal, and Prince George Citizen.)

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