Of all the punk and new wave musicians who have arrived and disappeared in the last year, the most interesting is Elvis Costello.
The energy and excitement on his first album, My Aim Is True, is strangely reminiscent of the very early Beatle albums. Costello has the same awkward, rushing quality of early Beatles, He is almost tripping over himself to get beyond his present musical abilities. This is very rough music, but totally uncompromised; he doesn't even make concessions to taste. He is too busy attacking prevailing presumptions of taste.
My Aim Is True is a perfect title. Similar to early Dylan, Stones, Beatles and Presley, the music is an attack, a direct challenge for music to dispense with marketability, and to become more relevant.
"Less Than Zero" is not so much a bleak vision of absurdities and anti-life lifestyles, as it is a challenge to make life worth more than zero. While pursuing this concern, Costello holds himself back from the excesses of the Sex Pistols —his message is simply too important to let it be obscured by bizarre antics.
Not surprisingly, Costello is following the approach of Bruce Springstein more so than the Sex Pistols. If Jon Landau was wrong when he said Springstein was the future of rock and roll, he wasn't too far off. But it will be the fresh, new blood of singers such as Costello, and Graham Parker who will drag the ailing rock and roll out of the closet and give it some well-needed new clothes.
The material on My Aim Is True is conceived from the frustration which the Stones related so beautifully in "Satisfaction." Costello has taken this and broadened it to include the complexities which in this decade have made a song like "Satisfaction" impossible. Of course, it takes a whole album now rather than a three minute single, and it's not easy to sustain a clear, direct vision for an entire album without either straying or relying on embellishments, but Costello manages very well.
Even with the frustration and sense of personal loss which runs through the record, this is a very hopeful album, one that, in a strange reversal is oddly reassuring.
I expect we will hear more from Costello, and I imagine he will grow, but yes or no, he has put out an exceptional album or rock and roll which is both strikingly fresh and firmly rooted in the classis.
Editor's note: Elvis Costello has a brand new release to be reviewed soon in the Lobo.