Rolling Stone, December 14, 1989

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Rolling Stone



Elvis Costello

Rolling Stone

Elvis Costello has been called many things; "beloved" isn't often one of them. Indeed, Spike's subtitle, The Beloved Entertainer, and the garish cover portrait of EC. in half whiteface, half blackface, mounted on a plaque like some rock critic's hunting trophy, mock the very notion of popular music as mere entertainment. Which isn't to say Costello begrudges you a good time on Spike. The portrait in "God's Comic" of the heavenly one sipping cola on a water bed and listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Requiem" ("He said, before it had really begun, 'I prefer the one about my son' ") is a hoot. Costello's shotgun marriage of Beatlesque bounce, gnarly avant-garage rock, Irish chamber folk and New Orleans marching-band funk, to name just a few of the genres on tap here, is as absorbing as it is ambitious. Yet the bile is never far from the bop. Spike shivers with stiletto-sharp wordplay and familiar Elvis scenarios of romantic betrayal, emotional distress, saddening loss and vengeful anger. The album is also liberally salted with Costello's undisguised hatred for England's Tory rulers (he really sticks his pen into Margaret Thatcher's ribs in "Tramp the Dirt Down"). As long as he continues to traffic in aggro-literate songwriting and refuses to acknowledge the commercial limitations of his musical roaming, Costello will always be more admired than loved — though you can't help but fall for a guy so determined to prove, through words and music, that there is nothing cheap or funny about peace, love and understanding.

Flowers In The Dirt

Paul McCartney

Rolling Stone

One of the strangest listening experiences of '89 was to hear Paul McCartney, the showbiz Beatle, trading verses in "You Want Her Too" with Elvis Costello, the New Wave hellion. But the contrast between McCartney's croon and Costello's nasal taunting belies their mutual interests in pop classicism. Costello puts a little bite into McCartney's bark in "You Want Her Too," adding an acidic Lennonesque edge to the tale of two hapless, competing suitors. And while Costello's influence is evident in the lyrics to "That Day Is Done" ("She sprinkles flowers in the dirt/ That's when a thrill becomes a hurt"), the song is a not-so-distant cousin of "Let It Be" in its hymnlike sonority. McCartney slips into tried — and trying — patterns of behavior, like the melodramatic ballad "Motor of Love"; he also flashes that familiar, gently rocking charm ("Rough Ride"). Still, the scarred beauty of "We Got Married," a bittersweet look at a durable romance with none of the storybook trimmings, suggests that if McCartney learned anything from his association with Costello, it's that good love songs don't have to be silly.

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Rolling Stone, No. 567 / 568, Dec. 14 - 28, 1989

Spike and Flowers In The Dirt are reviewed in The Year In Records.

Elvis Costello is featured in Random Notes.


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Cover, page scan and clipping.

Photo by Terry O'Neill.
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Random Notes

No one particular musical style predominates," Elvis Costello said of Spike in a rare moment of understatement. The weighty, bitter album boasts a connoisseur's roster of guest stars, including the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Paul McCartney, Chrissie Hynde, Allen Toussaint and Christy Moore. "This is my first foray into comedy records," Costello said. Margaret Thatcher and Andrew Lloyd Webber were among the targets of Costello's formidable scorn, along with unnamed entrepreneurs in "...This Town..." Then there was "Veronica," a deceptively blithe-sounding depiction of one old woman's senility, co-written with McCartney, that became a modest hit.

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Page scan.


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