New Musical Express, April 21, 1984

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Bottoms up

Elvis Costello / Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How's Your Fathers

Ian Penman

10 and 10 is 20 postaged stamps of the left-out-of-mainstream Costello: mislaid or temporarily missing 'B'-side moves, free 45s that got lost on the Press, things rarefied by lack of space, snatches of songs previously reserved for the lot of America (these latter perhaps the least necessary; from that White Dwarf Star period when he began to feel the sin of actually being a success, hyperventilating, dilating, fulminating… I could do without "Crawling To America," "Radio, Radio," and a couple other Stiff-stuffing, past-the-post pub-rock-by-rotation numbers. Numbers? How many dashes in that last sentence?) Let's get happy instead.

Count your luck stars!

For instance? Tryst my word. For this afternoon's best of The 10 + 10 Best Seconds of Elvis Costello. (or 10 + 10 = Dostoevsky + Da Da Doo Ron). All the best for me is slow; "Watching The Detectives" (it stays still); a breath-taken (slow, slow, slow) "Clowntime Is Over," "Dr Luther's Assistant" (an acid drop); a "My Funny Valentine" (how many do you know? I can count them on the fingers of one name); a pre-Almost Blue courtly & Western "Stranger In The House"; and the best, of this best of arrested EC, "Hoover Factory" ("It's not a matter of life and death — what is?").

Far and away, in no way or other is 10 And 10 a The Second Best Of Elvis Costello. Because it is so obviously ragged, unlike any attempt at a Best Of It would be, the aim is not for a purified His Story, a homogenized Costello store. 10 And 10 cannot sound like something put together by a rock critical type Elvis Costello archivist — it sounds more like a lost and found, slightly dazed, slightly hurried, slightly hurt, fan-made cassette. And that can only be a multiverse better than something like a The Craft Of Elvis Costello...

You know the way Crits tend to say, of an LP or collection, that this one is the one we've been waiting for, what they've been aiming for all along, this is a coming of age, they've finally arrived, etc, ad nauseam. Such logic behind a collected pieces of Costello would be quite unsuitably tasteful, whereas his "career" has been marvellously out of control (even when masquerading as an exercise in media-control). One says yes to 10 And 10, then; bloody-minded momentoes rather than bloody fair-minded maturity. Bloody value.

So we can sew an Elvis Costello times three: he goes from Spy to Socialite to Socialist. See? Slipping into the stream of alliteration that often follows a repeated rehearsing of the Rostello resonant rehandling of the everyday pun. As he loses the shackles of a certain oft-colour pills and potions sourness and becomes simply happily musical, you can tell, as songs are thrown off like single solitary sentences — he releases himself from a simulation of the nightmare "Elvis Costello" became buried in the media. (From taking powders to talking liberties.) The less infatuated with the evils of Media and Modern he lets himself be, the more tender the tunes — random associations that belong to an idea of an Age or lineage of Song which is very pre-video; the EC voice is neither triumphal arch nor dead slur, but (sometimes thinly) only what it can be. When the bitter tears have disappeared — the script hack allowed to direct, the backroom boy as highway man, the enthusiast let loose — then he lavishes love on even throwaway remarks. In some of the "smaller" moments resuscitated by 10 And 10 we can appreciate more coherently (less clogged by some of the recent somewhat Epic variants on the Costello cartography) that love lavished on, and the respect afforded, language. Plain and simple.

Plain and simple? Get lost!!

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New Musical Express, April 21, 1984

Ian Penman reviews Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How's Your Fathers.


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Photo by Peter Anderson.
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1984-04-21 New Musical Express cover.jpg


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