There's a new singer around who's going to have a tough time convincing people he's for real.
His name is Elvis Costello — and that could be enough to stop you right there! Not only does he figure to be one of those Presley imitators (who have massed, minklike, after the King's death), but the cover shot for his new album, My Aim Is True (Columbia), pictures Costello as a deformed Woody Allen type, in a 1950s rockabilly outfit with rolled-up cuffs, wielding his guitar like a machine gun.
"This is like Klaatu, man," one friend said, eyeing the album cover.
As it turns out, Elvis Costello is a rock 'n' roller all right. But he ain't nothing like a hound dog. Apart from his reliance on primitive rock structures, Elvis Costello does not try to copy his namesake.
Costello, a 22-year-old Britisher, links the brute power of Graham Parker with the sardonic wit of Randy Newman. It is easy to pick out his musical influences almost lick for lick — the early Beatles, the Stones, the Phil Spector stable. But the straightforward rock 'n' roll is joined with an unexpected choice of themes — and makes Costello an artist to be reckoned with.
The album roars out of the starting block with "Welcome to the Working Week," an occupational salute to the Monday-through-Friday grind. ("I know it won't thrill you, I hope it don't kill you.") Before you can catch your breath, the song roars right out; at 1:22, it is the shortest of the 13 cuts.
Elsewhere, the innocuous sounding "Mystery Dance" actually is a cry for sex education, and "Blame It on Cain" is an attempt to assign biblical responsibility for mundane troubles. "It's nobody's fault," Costello sings, "but we need somebody to burn." (To give you an idea of Costello's musical quirkiness, another song, "Watching the Detectives," starts off with a light reggae beat and moves instantly to a Ventures-styled guitar).
Costello's odd image is enhanced by his public temperament. He doesn't like to talk about his past. ("Nobody showed any interest in me then. If you weren't there, you missed it and that's it.") And he steadfastly refused to give any individual credits for his album. My Aim Is True, he said, is meant for tinny car radios at 60 mph.
Although Costello grinds out some pretty good guitar solos, the whole idea of instrumental virtuosity bores him. Partly from this supposed laxity, Costello has been lumped with the New Wave of rock 'n' roll artists.
In a sense, he is one of them; his creative instincts are roughly parallel to those of many other angry, young rockers. But if Costello shuns musical technique in favor of overall punch, he also refuses to leaden his songs with pure volume.
Elvis Costello, in other words, is a New Wave singer who can be enjoyed by fans who still remember the Old Wave.