New Musical Express, May 12, 1979

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An '80s hero for the '60s

Elvis Costello / Accidents Will Happen

Ian Penman

A big fiction-in-the-way is that singles (especially) have a "direct" meaning or effect; this is obvious, we're frequently told. It's nothing of the sort. Singles have histories too.

"Accidents Will Happen" has a history. It stands for a subject and the "subject" isn't in the least bit deserving of public involvement — viz, the idealogical onanism of Elvis Costello (whoever he is). A minor-fiction-sticking-large is the idea that Costello's barkings and/or whimperings are anything other than a slickly arranged glut of thematically consumable and satisfying images-cum-motifs.

The marketing history of Costello is implicated as an ideological form of fascism insofar as he (or the rock press?) sees his speciality as transcending determinations from the base of production (real social conditions). The marketing is a pile of grubby mystifications on the fact that the last people to know about (or care about) working-class culture — i.e. R'n'R — are the industry's venal "stars," idealogues and careerists.

It is not odd to see a pushy little object-d'pseudo-art such as "Accidents Will Happen" (an LP track moderngraphic-ized and EP-ized to fulfil average market £sd sense criteria) separated from real (social) conditions and history of production if you bear in mind how totally bureaucratic and idealistic R'n'R still is.

Take this "hero" and shelve it.

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New Musical Express, May 12, 1979

Ian Penman reviews the single for "Accidents Will Happen."


1979-05-12 New Musical Express page 23.jpg
Page scan.

1979-05-12 New Musical Express cover.jpg


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