Swarthmore College Phoenix, February 8, 1978

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Costello rides new wave

Warren Ross

The "New Wave" is upon us and it must be examined by all serious rock enthusiasts. In its various manifestations, it offers both some exciting possibilities for the future of rock and some trivial statements of nihilism that are best left unsaid.

Perhaps the most exciting performer to come out of this emerging form of rock is Elvis Costello. On a first listening, his recent, and only, album, My Aim is True (Columbia 86037) resembles Bruce Springsteen with minor variations. What Costello has in common with Springsteen is a profound awareness and love for all the forms that rock has taken over the past 25 years. After several listenings, though, Costello emerges as the more consummate artist, having produced an album that contains a great variety of rock forms and a subtle lyrical richness.

The lyrical high point of the album is the song "Watching the Detectives," which he performed on Saturday Night Live. It has to be one of the strangest songs of all time. The separate worlds of the singer and his woman friend, and the detective show they are watching on TV, become a single reality by the end of the song.

Musically, Costello is an excellent guitarist, and he is backed by a more than adequate band, featuring a superior organist.

Costello has said publicly that his music is immersed in his anger and guilt and that he doesn't want to talk about the meaning of his lyrics. When he sings lyrics like "I've got this camera click-click-clicking in my head... I got you talking with your hands, smiling with your legs," one is acutely aware that he means it. He wants his audience to become wrapped up in the emotions he is expressing through the totality of his lyrics, music and singing. To achieve this end, he doesn't include the lyrics to his songs or a list of the band members on his album. He is consciously trying to avoid giving his audience a chance to put him and his music in a box by being able to pin labels on it. The lyrics can easily stand alone for critical appraisal, although they are best experienced within the context of the music.

What Costello is doing is exciting and worth listening to; it is perhaps one of the few things that the New Wave has produced that will last for a long time.


The Phoenix, February 8, 1978

Warren Ross reviews My Aim Is True.


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1978-02-08 Swarthmore College Phoenix page 05.jpg
Page scan.


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