With the rise of punk rock's raucous and boisterous musicians, it is a pleasant welcome to find a new rocker on the scene who does more than scream into a microphone and strum three chords on a guitar.
He is Elvis Costello, and his debut album, My Aim is True, is one of the most simple, yet impressive, works to be released in some time.
The most noticeable thing about Costello is that he doesn't look a bit like a polished '70s musician. Instead he could pass for Buddy Holly's twin brother. His rolled up jeans, short, combed back hair and paranoid Woody Allen expressions give Costello the image which Stereo Review humorously calls "the twerp of our time."
Costello's first rise in popularity came soon after his national television debut on NBC's Saturday Night Live in early January. He showed an intense feeling for the music he played, but his indigence toward the crowd, amazingly, seemed to win his appeal more than his music. At that point, the 22-year-old Costello created an image for himself.
However. his image is not what he relies on. It Is his music, in it's simplicity and variety, that makes him a songwriter-composer in the same ranks as the late '60s-period Dylan.
One thing that can be immediately said about My Aim is True is that you get what you pay for. Costello has managed to fit 13 cuts on the album none of which are longer than 3½ minutes. This is a trend that many newer bands, most notably Cheap Trick, have been taking. The digression back to shorter, less drawn-out songs may be an indication of the resurgent push by record companies for more AM airplay of their musicians, an effort which subsided with the rise of album-oriented FM stereo.
However, Costello's many songs provide a fine example of the variety of music he can play. Basically, there is a song for every mood you could be in. The music ranges from a basic, bluesy rock to early sixties "be-bop" to a mellow love ballad which rivals the best tear-jerkers.
The album begins with two selections that reflect the basic primal rock beat that has become a trademark among punk rockers. "Welcome to the Working Week" and "Miracle Man" are both tunes that classify Costello as a true rocker. The standard rock chord progressions, along with Costello's gruff, primal vocals make the songs amazingly similar to Bruce Springsteen's early works.
For a change to the sixties style, Costello offers a "be-bop" love ballad titled "No Dancing." The song features all the elements of a tear-jerker — the heart-broken teenager whose big crush is in love with another guy who has just given her his ring at a dance. The teenager says there will be "no dancing all night long" without her.
"Alison" is Costello's entry into the soft rock-love ballads. The easy-paced. soft guitar licks, along with Costello's emotionally quivering vocals, provide a sensual air is this cocktail-lounged-styled song.
Costello claims his lyrics are motivated solely from "revenge and guilt." This is best displayed in "Watching the Detectives." The tune has a reggae beat to it, but the song is far from reggae. The driving bass riffs play on your mind as Costello sings of an Ingrid Bergman-like woman who can "pull your eyes out with a face like a magnet" and though "it took a miracle to get you to stay, it just takes her little finger to blow you away."
Probably the most intriguing song on the album is "Mystery Dance," a '50s tune which is amazingly similar to Costello's namesake. the King of Rock. The beginning, with Costello's slightly reverbed vocal and slick guitar licks, is almost a duplicate of "Jailhouse Rock." At times you'd swear it was the original Elvis himself vocalizing the fast paced number.
My Aim is True ranks Elvis Costello as one of the most versatile performers to arrive on the music seem in quite some time. Perhaps in the near future the slogan checker-boarded on the album cover will be used to describe this remarkable musician — that is, "Elvis is King."