Elvis Costello has always been prolific. Elvis Costello has always been creative. Yet how can he follow up an excellent album, Get Happy!! which was actually closer to a double album with 20 songs crammed onto a single disc, with a slew of singles and lp's that contain new and good material? (ep: extended play: somewhere between a "Double Single" and a "Mini-Album"; record companies have always been prolific, though not always this creative.) When is he going to burn out? ask the cynics.
The two ep's under discussion here, Hi-Fidelity and New Amsterdam, both begin with their title songs which came from Get Happy!! — but it is the new material that is really of interest because, for the first time in his career, Elvis is producing his own music.
Nick Lowe, Elvis' producer in the past and the producer again of the two album cuts, has a strong distinctively rich pop style that has for the most part sharpened both Elvis' music and his concepts, but it has also dulled the music at times, leaving Elvis adrift in the kind of "pure pop" morass that Lowe himself favors.
It's nice to hear unadulterated Costello, and his own production is accordingly both sparser and more eccentric, especially on "Dr. Luther's Assistant" and "Ghost Train." both from New Amsterdam: strange sounds and unidentifiable instruments surge over and under chunky, almost clumsy rhythms; it's different, in the most positive, non-euphemistic sense of the word, for these songs are equal to Elvis' best work.
The ep's also contains two ballads, "Just a Memory" and a new slower version of Get Happy!!'s "Clown Time is Over," plus a cover version of Van McCoy's "Getting Mighty Crowded" — a good standard type of rocker that Elvis usually stays away from. "Just a Memory" is probably one of the worst things he's ever done lyrically, but it is at the same time, interestingly enough, one of the best examples of Elvis' abilities as a vocalist.
There is a crude sound to these records (available as of yet only as imports) and perhaps the songs were not as well thought-out as those on his lp's. (Elvis is one of the most cerebral of all rock and rollers), but there is also a freshness and an inventiveness that bodes well for Elvis' next musical outburst.