Phonograph Record Magazine, January 1978

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My Aim Is True

Elvis Costello

Lester Bangs

Elvis who? Let's get one thing straight in front. I like Elvis Costello — when I saw his first single I slapped myself in wonderment that nobody had thought of such an outrageous ploy before. I also like him because I met him and he's a nice guy if a little intense (tightens up around the forehead and back of the neck). He's so cool that when he heard Richard Hell was coming to England, he rehearsed up a goodtime version of "Love Comes in Spurts" which they played for Richard soon's he walked in the door.

Look, buddy, the pop music biz today is grim — ain't like the Sixpack Sixties, when titans just waltzed in and people were just learning to get paranoid: so here's Elvis, I mean THE ONE LIVING ELVIS, on his album cover and general demeanor: look out world, here I come. Get it while ya can, cause if you miss this chance you may rue today the rest of your life.

Elvis Costello sure has a mean left hook. And a right one too. This album is loaded with hit singles, I don't know why they're pushing it on the FM album-tracks market. Shove them sumbitches out there and Elvis will have a hit fore or aft, one of 'em's gotta stick to the wall where the charts are. Yeah he sounds a lot like Bruce at first, and yo ho ho isn't it funny/ ridiculous/ pathetic that all of a sudden there's all these new would be rockstars (who let Graham Parker out of the midget show?) who sound nigh identical to Springsteen when ol' Bruce himself still ain't totally digested, uh, Robbie 'n' Van 'n' Bob 'n' Roy 'n' the rest of 'em yet.

But even if he mighta lifted a coupla Broostoons (free copy of The New York Review of Books to first person to identify the "Backstreets" life), Elvis' lyrics hip you upfront this cat's got other ideas in mind. Namely, the perfidious acrimony attendant upon and trailing after romantic disjunctures — i.e., he's been rejected a lot, because he's funny looking like Buddy Holly sorta but definitely not your SPRING-All American He Man-STEEN type. Though the production is a little flat and you wouldn't know E.C. had a band from the grooves or sleeve of this album, the songs all stick in your mind, they follow you around to the dry cleaners, things like that, so you know the boy is hitbound. Once you figure out the lyrics it's even better, because deft El certainly is. Has to be with so much on his mind, it would not be wrong to say that this album is obsessed with women in a particularly petulant way — sorta like a 30-year-old guy at a bar regaling you with intimate details of how his 16-year-old honey sneaked out on him last nite for a quick bicflic and then back to the burgerstand, the difference being that Elvis makes these tales of cheatin' wimmen and befuddled swains into little stories redolent with drama — "Watching the Detectives" is my fave.

I would also like to mention that the only guitar solos on this album (excepting one Eddie Cochran cut loose in "Mystery Dance") are just textural tinsel for out choruses, which is fine by me. G'wan out and buy this album, you won't play it much but Elvis has written some of the most interesting songs I've heard since Richard Hell's — a lot about intramural fornication and adultery and X-rated suchlike, plus which every household in America should own a copy of "Mystery Dance," the rockabilly song of 1977 which also inadvertently explains why so many of those rockabilligoats end up becoming Nazis or next thing to. Elvis should be a real big star real soon, with such a nose for nuance of romance-f--k-up (hit song fodder from time immemorial), and as soon as it happens I got a message for him: Loosen up a little, Hoppy, y'know it ain't no sin to laugh or grin.

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Phonograph Record Magazine, January 1978

Lester Bangs reviews My Aim Is True.

Bobby Abrams reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions, November 18, 1977, Whisky a Go Go, Los Angeles.


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Page scans.

Elvis Costello

Whiskey, Los Angeles

Bobby Abrams

It seems we who are involved with music for a living or otherwise are gearing up for the Battle of Armageddon and we've not really drawn up the sides, nor the issues, except in some vague terminology relating to the words "Punk" or "New Wave." This confusion even extends to the bands who are unsure of which appelation will do them the most commercial good. As a manager of two of the leading punk bands (Vom, featuring R. Meltzer, and the Ravers, whose "Punk Rock Christmas" is the first release on Zombie Records) as well as a critic of long standing I feel uniquely qualified to spread some oil on troubled waters.

Bob Dylan once said "It's all music," in reference to his electrified sets and Gertrude Stein might as well have said "music is music...etc." The point is, no matter what, we have a semantic structure for labeling sounds (and noise) produced in a certain manner as music, and all other classifications as sub-genres. Going further, punk rock does not exist in a vacuum, but rather on the continuum of music and its evolution.

To me, punk rock is nothing more or less than good rock and roll, a product conspicuously absent in the seventies. Period. It's not about pogo dancing, shaved heads or garage bands — it's about only one thing: killer rock and roll. Killer r&r doesn't necessarily imply three chords, or playing out of tune. It implies, as the famous Chuck Berry song states, "a backbeat, you can't lose it."

Personally, I'm tired of all these garbage bands that the Whiskey features, bands that have never played before getting on stage and calling themselves "punk rockers." They have as much to do with making significant rock and roll as Pat Boone did (or, for that matter, his daughter does).

Elvis Costello has no such problems, except semantic. His music has a bit of a pop sound to it, it seems eminently commercial and ultimately top 40 — he didn't have any safety pins through his nose, and, most of all, his band could play. If these virtues eliminate him from the Punk Rock Derby, so be it. The last virtue is particularly significant, because it's the element that will elevate Costello, along with the Sex Pistols, to the top of the heap. Indeed, the set I caught, they injected an old Jefferson Airplane jam, note for note, into the middle of one of the songs. It certainly wasn't a radical move, but the punk rock ideologues had some trouble relating to it. I was knocked out by how tight the band was, how very good they were using any criteria and it was so very easy to see why Elvis is causing a sensation in England. My only disappointment was that he didn't do "Welcome to the Working Week." That could have been the encore, but the jaded freebie comp list house of over-the-hill fringe didn't go manic.

Up in the bleachers, where I was sitting, it was wild, and most other groups would have come back once or twice on the strength of the applause. Not Elvis, so it's also good to see he's not yet been totally co-opted by the "Biz." Impressive songs included "Miracle Man," "Watching the Detectives" and the bittersweet "Alison." (With its pounding reggae beat — one of the few times I've seen a white band effectively play this kind of music.) His incessant remonstrations of pain are somewhat akin to Springsteen, but the performances are much more lyrical for me, and much more basic. The band doesn't fart around but rather strikes a professional stance from the first note.

Costello has established himself as a big one and he's going to get bigger. People are already talking about the legendary qualities of his performances on this first tour of America. If you missed the Beatles at Carnegie Hall, this might be the chance to catch up on your culture.

Cover and contents page.
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