Uncut, December 2013

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50 Greatest Singer/Songwriter Albums


30   Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Blood & Chocolate

It's tough to improve on Costello's own assessment of Blood & Chocolate, "a pissed-off, 32-year-old divorcee's version of This Year's Model." However, where the angst of This Year's Model was rooted in the fact that girls wouldn't talk to him, Biood & Chocolate articulated the catastrophe that could ensue when they did. Blood & Chocolate appears Costello's settling of accounts regarding his first marriage, to Mary Burgoyne (though the recently installed second Mrs Costello, former Pogues bassist Caitlin O'Riordan, provided backing vocals on a couple of tracks). "Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head" and "I Hope You're Happy Now" are mournful and furious, while the relentless "I Want You" remains, against formidable competition, Costello's most lacerating and hostile recorded performance.

50 Greatest Singer/Songwriter Albums

1. Tim Hardin – Tim Hardin 1 – 1996
2. Leonard Cohen – Songs Of Leonard Cohen – 1967
3. Laura Nyro – New York Tendberry – 1969
4. Al Stewart – Love Chronicles – 1969
5. Dory Previn – On My Way To Where – 1970
6. John Lennon – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – 1970
7. James Taylor – Sweet Baby James – 1970
8. Loudon Wainwright III – Album 1 – 1970
9. Kris Kristofferson – Kris Kristofferson – 1970
10. Joni Mitchell – Blue – 1971
11. David Crosby – If Only I Could Remember My Name – 1971
12. Judee Sill – Judee Sill – 1971
13. Nick Drake – Pink Moon – 1972
14. Gene Clark – No Other – 1974
15. Jackson Browne – Late For The Sky – 1974
16. Neil Young – On The Beach – 1974
17. Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks – 1975
18. Joan Baez – Diamonds & Rust – 1975
19. Janis Ian – Between The Lines – 1975
20. Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years – 1975
21. Al Green – The Belle Album – 1977
22. Marvin Gaye – Here, My Dear – 1978
23. Brian Ferry – The Bride Stripped Bare – 1978
24. John Martyn – Grace And Danger – 1980
25. Pete Townshend – Empty Glass – 1980
26. John Cale – Music For A New Society – 1982
27. Lou Reed – The Blue Mask – 1982
28. Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out The Lights – 1982
29. Dexys Midnight Runners – Don’t Bring Me Down – 1985
30. Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Blood & Chocolate – 1986
31. Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel Of Love – 1987
32. Mark Eitzel – Songs Of Love – 1991
33. Nick Lowe – The Impossible Bird – 1994
34. Steve Earle – Feel Alright – 1996
35. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call – 1997
36. Elliott Smith – Either/Or – 1997
37. Paul Westerberg – Suicane Gratification – 1999
38. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker – 2000
39. Rodney Crowell – The Houston Kid – 2001
40. Beck – Sea Change – 2002
41. Lucinda Williams – World Without Tears – 2003
42. Warren Zevon – The Wind – 2003
43. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black – 2006
44. Sun Kil Moon – April – 2008
45. John Grant – Queen Of Denmark – 2010
46. Josh T Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen – 2011
47. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp – 2012
48. John Murry – The Graceless Age – 2013
49. Alela Diane – About Farewell – 2013
50. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle – 2013

<< >>

Uncut, No 199, December 2013

Blood & Chocolate is included in Uncut's 50 Greatest Singer / Songwriter Albums.

Allan Jones recalls a 1989 conversation with EC.


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Page scans.

Are we rolling?

Allan Jones

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As she might be said to have started off a trend for confessional songwriting with her 1971 album, Blue, we have put together as part of our celebration of Joni Mitchell's 70th birthday a list of the 50 most soul-baring singer-songwriter albums, the compilation of which reminded me of a conversation with Elvis Costello I had many years ago about this very subject, about which he inevitably had some pretty forthright opinions.

It was May, 1989, and I was in Dublin to interview Costello about Spike, his new album, just out, but we had somehow ended up talking about an unhappy earlier period in his life, the turmoil of which often found its way into his songs, many of them notable for their unsettling candour. It had seemed to some that he may have courted emotional distress for inspiration, a suggestion that led to the following exchange.

"Was I purposely fucking up my life to give myself something to write about?" he chuckled mordantly. "I think I did that for about a year," he added with a weary laugh. "And that's at the very most. Then I began to mistrust the results. Because if you do that, it's like when they pour acid into rabbits' eyes or something. What does it prove? It proves that it hurts the animal. Very smart. It's unnecessary research. And I guess I did some unnecessary research for a while. Then I'd write something that would scare the hell out of me. Like there's a couple of songs on Get Happy!! that when I read them back, I just scared the hell out of myself. And I thought, 'Uh-uh. Better not think any more about this. It's going too far.' Because you can think too fucking much, you know. And it gets a bit fucking evil.

"I can recognise sometimes when I went too far. But then again, I was never really that specific. I mean, people who really do pay too much attention for their own good have tried to peg certain songs to certain people. It's like a game, isn't it? That started in the '70s with people like Joni Mitchell. People always wanted to know who those songs were about. And people have tried that with me, and they've always been wrong.

"Do I resent people looking for the autobiographical in my songs? No, I don't resent it. I just blame John Lennon. It's Plastic Ono Band, that album started it all. After that, everything was supposed to be fucking confessional. The early '70s were full of people baring their fucking souls for public scrutiny. There were records whose authenticity depended on their confessional aspect, and if you read certain magazines and the background interviews, you knew what these songs were about.

"And, for me, that always used to spoil it. Particularly when you found out what dickheads some of the people were that they were writing about. I'd rather have them be like Smokey Robinson songs, which could be about anyone. I don't think it's important that people know who 'Alison' was about. It's none of their fucking business. It's a song. 'I Want You' is a song. It doesn't matter who it's about. It's just a song. It's a really well-written song. It's also very personal. But you don't have to know the whole story to be touched by it. But there are still people, yeah, who want everything I've ever done documented and explained — but we're really getting into something else here," he said, perhaps recalling what we're actually here to talk about, which is his new album. "Like I say," he went on anyway, "it's all in the past. None of it means a damn. You can't go digging around for ever in the past. It's history. Let it fucking go."

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