Once upon a time it wasn't that difficult to believe those (in retrospect) fatuous rumours that Elvis Costello was a figment of Nick Lowe's imagination. His voice and approach to songs were so startlingly similar to Lowe's that some sort of comparison was pretty inevitable.
This no longer applies. Although Lowe produced This Year's Model, he has skimmed off his own ghost. Elvis is Elvis is Elvis now, and it doesn't detract one bit.
This is a less whitewashed, less vicious effort than My Aim Is True, but the bile still spills here and there.
"I don't wanna kiss you, I don't wanna touch, I don't wanna see you cos I don't miss you that much," lip-curls from "No Action." And "I don't wanna be you're lover, I just wanna be your victim," from "The Beat."
And... "I don't wanna be hung up, strung up when you don't call up," from "Little Triggers."
I don't wanna this and I don't wanna that. The man is still a Aladdins Cave of anti-matter, the big negative. But I don't wanna listen to the words that much, because they're not so important.
What does matter is that Elvis really isn't a one album wonder, and who suspected for a moment that he was? Nick Lowe isn't the last pop craftsman; and neither is Elvis, but they're both of one breed, ie the short, melodic masterpiece.
I find it difficult to wax eloquent about Costello, because he is a very simple artist. That isn't to suggest that he isn't personally complex — sure he's quite as twisted as he wants us to believe — but his product is like Ramones music, clever in its very lack of detail.
There is some sort of formula to this album, though it isn't a strict one. The sound is very dominant keyboard and upfront bass / drum sound, with a feel not a galaxy away from the noise Blondie makes, with those same sixties-trapped 10 years on atmospherics.
The voice is the magic wand that transforms This Year's Model into something unusual, something more than pop vogue. Nasal, almost asthmatic, it somehow manages to convey a strength that belies its superficial weedyness, sort of insubstantial but wiry.
Looking at it through corporation eyes, this could be construed as an attempt to conquer the American AM market, which he's already dented.
This Year's Model is definitely more Transatlantic than My Aim Is True, graced with that nice fat production that the Yanks suck up so uncritically. It isn't particularly welcome — I liked that very sparse approach — but then it's hardly going to detract from songs with the qualities of "I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea," "Lipstick Vogue," "No Action" and "The Beat."
There are a couple of... unremarkable rather than puny tracks — "You Belong To Me" and "Pump It Up," then nobody's perfect.
Elvis is getting closer though... closer all the time. God help his ego and us all if he reaches it.