Sydney Morning Herald, December 6, 1987

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Costello plays it cool

Greg Taylor

Same hotel, same star in baggy black and thick-rimmed glasses: the hair may be a trifle thinner than in 1984, but this year's model of the Elvis Costello show still talks a blue streak.

The Anglo-Irish performer (real name, Declan McManus), whose 13 albums have established him as one of the great singer-songwriters of this or any other rock decade, is a self-starter in interviews.

Just don't bandy the word "genius" about...

"What really cheeses me off is this genius syndrome in popular music. Einstein was a genius, Picasso maybe was a genius... but I remember somebody described a darts player as a genius.

"A guy that throws little metal darts at a board is not a f....... genius. He's a talented sportsman... no, it's not even a sport, it's a pastime. "

He happens to have an eye for doing that and I think that what most people in rock and roll do is at that level of human endeavour. It's about the level of football or something against Shakespeare or any of the great writers, the level of intellectual endeavour is laughable." Costello will probably accept "craft" for what he does.

"I work quite hard on what I do. It's not an accident, and it's not a gift" and many critics and a moderate proportion of the listening public have come to the view that few do it better. "I get more than my fair share of good reviews," says Costello.

"Which is very nice although they don't always review the record that's really there, because people get these theories about it and that's what they do for a living."

No kidding... Well, here's one: Do you think there's a future for literacy in pop?

"I'm reluctant to even discuss that aspect, 'cos I don't think I'm particularly literate... people get this sort of shorthand, which doesn't mean much after a while like 'angry young man'..."

He's been that, too or appeared to be that. "The masquerade that went on 10 years ago was an effective device in order to gain attention. But there was a point where it took on the realm of a foot-stamping tantrum. After a while you start to become a little ludicrous." Australia saw some of the tantrums on his earlier visits, particularly the first, in 1978, when the short length of his set provoked fracas backstage and in the audience. But subsequent tours, both with his longtime backing group, The Attractions, and as a solo act, redressed the balance handsomely.

The abrasiveness may be muted "I'm a little more courteous now, 'cos there are certain people that I have the measure of, and I think they deserve courtesy" but he can still muster a little savage humour on the subject of his former American record company.

"I don't want to sound too cynical or too presumptuous, but I think I pulled one of the best bank robberies in the history of pop music in regard to my career in America. I was exorbitantly paid to do exactly what I wanted by a bunch of people who didn't understand a thing that I was doing for eight of the 10 years I was with them.

"And I'm laughing at them! They're the ones that are out of pocket. I got to make the records; the fact that I didn't have any million-selling records is, of course, disappointing, because I didn't fulfil this promise. But it was more to do with their lack of understanding of what I was doing, and their refusal to accept that I wasn't doing the same things that I did in 1977 over and over again."

Now, after releasing his last album, Blood and Chocolate, independently, he's back with another major American label, "who seem to accept that I might do something different" and seems poised on the beginning of a new cycle of activity.

The most obvious aspect of this is the experimentation with different collaborators. Blood and Chocolate was recorded with The Attractions but this year Costello is touring with The Confederates, who include famous Californian session drummer Jim Keltner, and bassist Jerry Scheff and guitarist James Burton, two members of the famous TCB Band that backed another singer called Elvis.

One link with the past is maintained, however: long-term friend and producer Nick Lowe opens the show as a solo act, then joins The Confederates on rhythm guitar and harmonies.

Other recent projects include a soundtrack for The Courier, a major studio movie starring his new wife (and former Pogues bassplayer) Cait O'Riordan. Then there's an import album of out-takes, B-sides and rarities, Out of Our Idiot (which includes a rendition of Jo Jo Zep's "So Young"); writing and production with Panamanian salsa star Ruben Blades; and an intriguing collaboration with what sounds like an unlikely songwriting partner Paul McCartney. Costello is a bit mysterious about this last activity.

"Yeah, I've written some words... I never like to talk about future things. There's a few little collaborations in the offing, but I think it would be rude to the the other people to give you the lowdown on it now." We wait with bated some-thing-or-others...

Meanwhile he and Cait have to find a new house and maybe a new country. Costello can't abide Thatcher's England "I can't feel sorry for people that bring such calamity on themselves for another five years" and concedes that "there's a lot worse places than Australia... But I think it'll have to be a country that hasn't been invented yet."

He may not emigrate, but you can see Elvis Costello & The Confederates plus Nick Lowe tonight in Newcastle, Melbourne on Tuesday and Adelaide on Saturday.


The Sun-Herald, December 6, 1987

Greg Taylor interviews EC ahead of concerts with The Confederates, Sunday, Dec. 6, Civic Theatre, Newcastle, Tuesday, Dec. 8, Festival Hall, Melbourne, and Saturday, Dec. 12, Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide.


1987-12-07 Sydney Sun-Herald page 150.jpg
Page scan.


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