He's been called Prince Charmless, the Woody Allen of rock, and Buddy Holly with atrophy, but I think this 22-year-old, pigeon-toed, nearsighted, former computer programmer for a cosmetic firm, is the most alluring item rock and roll has to offer these days. [We think he's an easy out for the Biz to deal with new wave.]
He's Elvis Costello, nee Declan McManus, and although it may be sad commentary on the times, he is the most promising prospect to rear its head from the new wave/powerpop onslaught. [The one the industry feels comfortable with.]
His direct-drive performances are deceptively minimalist efforts in rock and roll. The charm of Costello lies in his unique brand of complex simplicity. While the resulting music in his performance sounds sparse, even banal, it is an uncluttered brilliance hiding behind the guise of simplicity. For, although Costello sounds as common as any first or second generation rock star, he is the visionary of the decade. [Come now, Kirk.] At least, he offers more in the way of a refreshing, almost innocent approach towards music than anyone else around.
Still, the cynic inside me tells me that Elvis is not the uncompromising innocent that he portrays on stage and on vinyl. His performances are calculated, almost contrived attempts at creating an idiosyncratic persona. While there is conviction in what Elvis says, he is an unconvincing introvert. He basks in the attention, but he just doesn't let on.
Costello's two albums are ample demonstrations of understated musical prowess and lip-biting lyricism that can combine the punch of an early Gene Vincent and a late Bruce Springsteen. Comparisons, in this case though, should be thrown out the window. Elvis is an entity unto himself. Even Dan Hill hasn't come this far in so short a time.
On his new album, This Year's Model, Costello plummets into a much more complex presentation in his music. The production work is sharper, with much more focus than on My Aim Is True. There is even stereo.
Surprisingly, the best song on the import release, "I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea," isn't on the domestic pressing. Instead, "Radio Radio" is substituted in its place. Costello uses the keyboards much more effectively on the album, and he tends to give way to more soloing. That isn't to say that the disc isn't full of teamwork. Indeed, the sum total of the band's talents far exceeds their individual music skills. It's a tough album. Elvis is still angry.
My only concern with a long-term Elvis fixture in music, is how representative he'll be of my generation. It has been necessary for all prominent music figures to convey an image, something we can either admire or identify with. At present, Elvis is a soulful singer in a soul-less body. The only people who could identify with someone like Elvis are the skinny wimps you and I used to beat upon in grade school.
His band, consisting of Bruce Thomas on bass, Steve Naive (now there's an ironic name) on keyboards and Pete Thomas on drums. is equally mysterious. People may not tire of Costello's music, but they may grow impatient with his reticence.
He is still a shade too eccentric to be admired, much less revered, for a long period of time.
Nick Lowe's name has graced countless albums, both in a musical and production capacity. As Costello's ears, he has served as producer on the two discs, as well as albums by Graham Parker, Dave Edmunds and The Damned.
The former guitarist with Brinsley Schwartz (which also spawned members of Graham Parker's band) has since embarked on what seems like an endless string of solo careers, receiving lukewarm commercial and critical attention.
Now, armed with a substantial ducat-filled contract from Columbia in North