NEW YORK — That mellow song stylist, Elvis Costello, has a new album out. It's called Get Happy, which probably doesn't mean much more than irony, given Costello's dyspeptic disposition. Get Happy isn't likely to change anyone's opinion about Elvis Costello. It's still full of tough, quirky, interesting songs, although Costello's apparent refusal to include a lyric sheet seems downright perverse: His words are as interesting as any other aspect of his songwriting, yet his voice and the nature of the rock idiom make it extremely difficult to decipher them.
Costello, to this taste, has a toneless, limited baritone and a style that rarely conveys much beyond hectoring. His expressionlessness is perhaps a limited metaphor for a sensibility overwhelmed by feeling, and it purges the slow songs of sentimentality. But it quickly becomes boring. Some wonderfully clever arrangements by The Attractions, Costello's band, by Nick Lowe, his producer — and by Costello himself — compensate for that boredom.
Linda Ronstadt has recorded three Costello songs on her new Mad Love album — a selection that should make Costello a lot of money, even if he is said to be disgruntled at Miss Ronstadt's interpretations. Miss Ronstadt also included three songs by Mark Goldenberg, and gives "special thanks" on the jacket to Peter Bernstein; both men also play on the album.
Goldenberg and Bernstein have a band of their own with the unfortunate name of The Cretones, which has now released its debut LP, The Cretones, on Planet records. The album contains the three songs covered by Miss Ronstadt — "Mad Love," "Justine" and "Cost of Love."
Miss Ronstadt's album is generally taken to be her acknowledgement of new-wave rock. The Cretones are a Los Angeles new-wave band, and their demo tapes, full of a 60s kind of organ sound, sounded new wavish enough. For better or worse, though, the album sounds smoother and slicker than that; Miss Ronstadt's versions of their songs are a good deal tougher. Still, not all commercial success is new wave — far from it — and perhaps the Cretones are smart to polish their rough edges. It sounds like a loss.