This Year's Model
I was somewhat hesitant about falling in love with My Aim Is True. It didn't make my 1977 Top Ten LP list because the songs run together and the performances don't all quite cut it. For sure, there are some great tracks on the album, but not enough for a wholehearted endorsement.
Seeing Elvis on two nights during his first US tour led to one obvious conclusion — the new material he was performing ran circles around the released tunes. On the assumption that these songs either had been or were about to be recorded, I suggested that the followup LP was going to be amazing. Chalk one up for a premonition: This Year's Model not only shows vast improvements, but a few stunning innovations as well. Elvis has shaken off a lot of the R&B associations and added the neatest Farfisa organ sound this side of ? and the Mysterians. The songs are stronger, the performances more intense and threatening, the arrangements more varied, and the music much more adventurous in structure and design.
"No Action" kicks it off in what is becoming typical Elvis putdown style. Not since Dylan's heyday has any one performer succeeded so well at telling people via songs where to get off. "Everytime I phone you / I just want to put you down." The music is straight-ahead and aggressive. "This Year's Girl" is a more generally aimed attack at temporal female super-stars, with churning Farfisa and upfront drumming. With syncopated vibrato guitar and complex jazz singing, Elvis. bubbles through "The Beat," showing the new complexity of his music. Every bit as good as I remember it live.
"Pump it Up" has a real American feel to it, mixing a verse that sounds a lot like "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and a refrain that comes straight out of some mid-sixties' songbook. Another rousing organ performance gives it all the gism it needs. The slow song, "Little Triggers," is next, and if you liked "Alison," you'll probably feel the same way about this one. However, if the idea of the Stones' "Last Time" being played on organ sounds interesting, then try "You Belong to Me," with it's straight Standells'.
A bizarre Hendrix-like intro (???) leads into "Hand in Hand," the token Spector-beat track. "If I'm gonna go down / you're gonna come with me." It's a great vocal performance that infectiously invites audience participation. The dynamics are amazing — without changing intensity, the attack shifts from violent to subtle. "Lip Service" starts out like a Hollies' song and turns into another rousing putdowner, complete with handclaps.
On stage, Elvis introduced "Living in Paradise" as a song he's written about America. Composed of three distinct sections, the reggaeish verse gears down to a minor bridge and then up into the singalong chorus. Elvis has developed a very effective style of strumming just one chord and letting it ring, creating a less-is-more hole where other guitarists would keep right on banging away. "Lipstick Vogue" begins with a breakneck drum line that runs throughout the song, followed closely by a skittering jazz bass line. Elvis spits the vocals out between clenched teeth: "Sometimes I think that love is just a tumour / You've got to cut it out."
Beginning with an intro that smacks of "Born to Run," Elvis ends the LP with his best song ever, "Radio Radio." All of the anger and hate he can muster goes into this brilliant opus aimed (there's that word again) at the most vacuous and frustrating enemy a recording artist can have — the people that control the airwaves.
- "I wanna bite the hand that feeds me
- I wanna bite that hand so badly
- I wanna make them wish they'd never seen me
- "Either shut up or get cut up
- They don't want to hear about it
- It's only inches on the reel-to-reel
- And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
- Trying to anesthetize the way you feel."
It's a perfect paradox. Here's a song that's as good a "driving" song as any that's ever been, yet no d.j. in the USofA will have the nerve to play it. Elvis is showing off his integrity, and thumbing his nose at the radio industry as well by daring them to play it. Without a doubt, this song could be a top ten single in America if it weren't for the lyrics. And he's so right, to boot.
A word from our chief
If this be the place to sound one's horn, let 'er rip. Five months ago we put Elvis Costello on the cover of this magazine as the Face for 1978. In the cover feature Dave wrote, "...listen to Elvis. The guy has something to say, and his record has touched me like no other album this year. Make Elvis king once again." Apparently, 'nuff said. The week of this writing, My Aim Is True is in the charts at 32 and the new one is on the way. A major headlining tour has just been announced and it seems likely that This Year's Model will substantially outsell Aim, definitely establishing El as a major figure in pop music — in America as well as England. We're mighty pleased about the lad's success and feel compelled to say, as so many others have said before:
You read it here first!
We've always figured TP to be the place for new artists with real talent and individuality to get covered seriously before popular acceptance finds them. It's impossible to figure who's going to be commercially successful and who's going to end up as a treasured cult idol, but we've always tried to let the world (or at least our readership) know who we think has some-thing to offer. Sometimes we connect big, sometimes we don't. In any case, let Elvis stand as a testament to our nerve and taste, if not star-picking abilities. End of ego trip.
Photo by Linda Danna Robbins.
Back cover advertisement.
Pure Pop For Now People
These are strange times for rock music. While the punks vomit their way into the hearts and headlines of the world, hard-line old wavers (boring old farts, if you must) continue to pull in the big bucks and Debby Boone (DEBBY BOONE?) wins the Grammy for best new performer. In the midst of all this stands Nick Lowe. Thank God for Nick Lowe.
On the surface Nick seems to be playing pleasant tunes, nothing more than the "pure pop for now people" of the American album's title but before long you realize that he is playing with your mind, turning it inside out and showing you a lot that you might have missed without him.
The closing track, "Music for Money," attacks the less than noble motives behind the mainstream rock bands in a song that sounds dangerously close to Queen's "Get Down, Make Love." Lowe parodies the "sound" in a two-chord riff rocker, telling us that it's all "Music for money/Gibsons for gain." You'll never find a better Kiss song anywhere; watch for it, coming soon to a stadium or hockey arena near you...
If the definitive book on the business of rock is ever published, it'll have to include the lyrics to 'They Call It Rock." The song takes us along the road to glory with a band that hits the big time until...
"They cut another record, it never was a hit, And someone in the newspaper said it was shit."
The only complaint I have is that just about every song on this record sounds like something I've heard before. (That's pop!...Ed.) Snatches of "The Boys are Back in Town" and "Happy Heart" catch my ear — just as I'm sure Nick planned it. Some might see this as nothing more than out and out theft but there's more at work here — it's Nick's sense of the absurd. Setting Adolf Hitler against a Beach Boyish melody requires a twisted wit and Nick Lowe is always at hand to supply it. Often, he will echo Kurt Vonnegut as in the "nation of two" philosophy in "Tonight" or the direct quote of K.V., "So it goes."
Despite his penchant for eccentricity (if you aren't convinced, check out Marie Provost, a song inspired by Kenneth Anger's "Hollywood Babylon" chapter about a silent film queen who was eaten by her dachshund), Lowe never loses sight of the fact that he is a musician above all else. Great music abounds. He returns to the haunting quality of "Endless Sleep" (from Bowi) in "36" High," a subdued number characterized by Nick's vocal, which sounds like he went beyond singing at the microphone — he got inside it.
(The UK album differs from the US in exactly four ways. 1) The track order is totally different. 2) "Heart of the City" is studio in the US, live in the UK. 3) "They Call it Rock" on the US is replaced by "Shake and Pop," a slower, different arrangement of the same song. 4) The US LP includes an extra track, "Rollershow" that was on one of Lowe's Japanese (now English) Bay City parody singles. Also, the UK LP is titled Jesus of Cool. America's not quite ready for rock on the cross, hunh? — Ed.)
JESUS OF COOL?? Well, I don't know about the rest of the world, but Yours Truly has been converted into a card-carrying member of Nick's rock 'n' roll religion. This isn't the stupid "Fonzie cool" that has billions of pre-pubescent midgets jamming their thumbs in the air. No, this isn't a cool you find on T-shirts, this is a cool you feel. He's got it. Jesus, he's cool.
Cover and Live Stiffs ad.