Back in the late 1970s, when punk was being usurped by the "new wave," Elvis Costello emerged as the bright new hope of British rock.
He initially deceived many with his nerdy looks; the crew cut, the thick glasses and the skinny ties, but behind the decidedly un-pop star image lurked a writer of immense talent and scope.
Costello sprayed potent venom at all and sundry with a blend of cleverness, sardonic wit and quiet subtlety but he never forgot the most important thing about a good song the music.
He quickly gained a reputation, mainly from British music journalists, as being the quintessential angry young man and while his records have never been huge sellers, Costello has remained a firm favourite of critics and discerning fans alike during the past 14 years.
Costello's new album Mighty Like A Rose is his 13th studio LP and it is being lauded as one of his best. Australia will host the last leg of a fairly extensive tour that has taken Costello and his band. The Rude 5, around the globe.
On the line from Tokyo, Costello laughed at the angry young man tag. "Well. I'm getting a bit old in the tooth now, " he
said. "I just turned 37, so now maybe I'll have to be an angry old man.
"I always think those labels are journalists' conveniences. I understand that labels are necessary when you've got limited space, but the aim of people like me is not to be universally comprehensible."
Indeed. Over a lengthy career, Costello has done everything in his power not to be pigeonholed. He's produced frantic new wave anthems ("Pump It Up"), catchy pop ("Oliver's Army") and beautiful ballads ("Alison").
In 1981, he went right off the script and produced an entire album of country songs (Almost Blue) which contained a selection of standards and personal favourites and was amazingly well received.
Mighty Like A Rose has followed the same path as most of Costello's albums, that is, everybody loves it but it can't reach the million-plus sales regularly achieved by other artists of his calibre.
"I haven't had any hit singles off it but, then again, there's something a little frustrating about only having one song remembered.
In a way I'm rather pleased it ("The Other Side Of Summer") hasn't been a big success."
The single was a thinly disguised dig at the way America has let its natural resources run down. Ironically backed by a Beach Boys type melody, it is, in fact, the antithesis of the happy summer song.
"Well, I think the joke was a little bit lost on the Americans," Costello chuckled. "I think some people kind of got it while others didn't. Some people don't understand why it sounds a little like the Beach Boys.
"That sort of music used to be a celebration of the perfect summer, but to take that same sort of music and give it a totally different meaning ... I wasn't so much trying to take the piss as to make a pastiche or a tableau."
Despite lyrics which suggest the contrary, Costello denied he has a cynical attitude to life.
"I'm fairly sceptical about things," he admitted. "But I think cynicism is a dangerous thing — cynicism doesn't admit any hope at all. Being a sceptic is like being an agnostic, you like to leave the door open to the possibility of faith even if you have serious doubts about it."
"As much as I've seen the reaction has been good," he said. "There will always be dissenters and people who don't get it, but you can't do much about that. "With each record I make I try to make it different from the one before I don't want to grind out the same formula every time.
Costello has always been one to seek out work with other people and on Mighty, he has worked with a few other songwriters, most notably Paul McCartney, who has now become somewhat of a regular writing partner.
"They really help to balance things," he said of his collaborations. "I've done quite a few different collaborations but the most sustained has been with Paul I've gone back two or three times and written songs with him, both for my albums and for him.
"He did consider 'So Like Candy' (a Costello/ McCartney song) for his album but when he decided not to put it on there I thought, 'come on, it's my turn now'. I'd like to hear him sing it but he didn't feel quite as comfortable with it as I did."
The Australian leg of Costello's tour will be a bit different to what the rest of the world has seen as Costello's long-time guitarist, Marc Ribot, has other commitments and was forced to pull out. That left Costello with the choice of either cancelling the tour or hiring a new player at short notice. Instead, he decided to carry on with a stripped down band. "Now, I've been taking a stronger role on guitar, although it has been something that has naturally evolved," he said.
"At this stage the last show will be in Melbourne on the 24th, that'll be the end of a pretty hard year's work, so to have something like that develop keeps us on our toes we can't slack off."
After the tour Costello plans to "lie down in a cool, dark room" but it probably won't be long before he's back with a new album.