RAM, May 5, 1978

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This Year's Model

Elvis Costello

Anthony O'Grady

Elvis Costello? Probably you've heard of him even if you haven't heard "Watching The Detectives" on radio or you somehow missed out on the RAM/Stiff flexidisc featuring two of the little Brit runt's songs.

The legend goes like this: discovered out of the blue he smashed England wide open last year with My Aim Is True and is currently making severe dents in America. There they regard him as the crowning achievement of New Wave.

In England he's regarded as a supremely talented but obsessive new star who's given people something to think about apart from punk.

Whatever the terminology, the gist is clear. This Elvis fellow is hot hot hot. Jump on the bandwagon everyone.

The My Aim is True elpee featured Elvis as a bespectacled ranting runt, listing hurts and planning revenge. The only thing that took the edge of what could be diagnosed as rampant paranoia was the cleverness of the man, the sharp way in which he gave no pity to himself or others, yet still came up shouting with, if not optimism, at least with a fine honed lust for life and a conviction that he, puny frame, hook-nose face and all, was a man among men.

On This Year's Model the focus widens. Elvis is less obsessive, he's relaxing more and looking at what's going down around him.

The result? The best collection of Now fashion-conscious songs since Ray Davies started his Dedicated Follower of Fashion period.

Only thing is, with Elvis, there's little affectionate or escapist romanticism. He's an ugly little geek ramming his points home. A passionate horn-rimmed debater with devastating logic.

And now a word about the band. My Aim is True featured a set of session players who delivered the arrangements in forthright fashion. But they're strictly low key in relation to The Attractions — Elvis' own band formed after Aim who've played with him live ever since. They stomp into the music with such tigerish power you can only amaze at Elvis' ability to stay on top of 'em.

For some obscure reason The Attractions aren't credited on the album. They're Pete Thomas (dms), bassist Bruce Thomas (no relation) and Steve Naive (keyboards).

If all this over the top enthusiasm doesn't get out buying the record, maybe a jobsmith account of the songs will. Like "This Year's Girl," a sly observation on the Farrah Fawcett-Majors/Cheryl Ladd pin-up set over hammerhead drumming and rocksteady melody. Or "Living In Paradise" with a shuffling power-pop reggae detailing how dreams of soft-living actualise in soul-decaying corruption. Or "Lipstick Vogue" which whips up a truly spine-curdling intensity in the band while Elvis spits vitriol at modern love customs. "Sometimes I think love is just like a tumour / you've got to cut it out." The only hope in the song is the 'you' the song is presumably dedicated to, 'cos "you're not just another lipstick mouth." As for El himself he's not about to put down others without taking a clear look at himself. "Sometimes I almost feel / Just like a human being," he hisses.

The album finisher, "Night Rally," is again intense and this time near-frightening. The theme is future fascism. The scene is a picture of the present National Front in the UK. "You think they're so funny going off to their night rallies." Until they make you go, of course.

Plus more! Like the "On the Beach" type refrain of "The Beat" with an infuriatingly simple Farfisa organ arrangement that hooks from the start.

Plus "Little Triggers," a hypnotic, frustrated, hurt love song that's almost the mirror image of "Alison" on Aim. Plus "Watching The Detectives" makes its second album appearance in Oz (it's also on the local EMI pressing of My Aim is True)

Elvis is intelligent. The Attractions are gripping. The songs are passionate. He's not a pretty boy. He doesn't make pretty melodic music. But he's not grotesque and he makes passionate music. In a country currently dominated by Los Angeles computer chic, you need Elvis Costello for honest nutritional value.

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RAM, No. 83, May 5, 1978

Anthony O'Grady reviews This Year's Model.


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