Vox, November 1994

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Vox Record Hunter

UK & Ireland magazines


Out of the Blue

Michele Kirsch

Elvis Costello And The Attractions
Imperial Bedroom
9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews
Almost Blue
9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews9-star (of 10) reviews

Two further releases from Costello's archives that underline what reissues should be about. Not only is there a generous album's worth of extended-play tracks added on to each of the original recordings, but there are extensive self-penned liner notes. On a purely functional level, the explanations and anecdotes for each of the tracks shed new light on what fans might have regarded as two of his most melancholy collections; knowing that a particular song was influenced by a musical reference or period as opposed to some tragic romance makes the whole experience seem a lot less harrowing — still personal, but less myopic.

On 1982's Imperial Bedroom, for example, you can put the Sergeant Pepper-style orchestral flourishes (provided in part by Pepper producer Geoff Emerick, in part by Steve Nieve) in a new perspective, with the knowledge that Emerick worked on the LP during a break in recording a Paul McCartney solo LP. You can feel how he was going for a real blast of a more extravagant past, with Costello and co trying out all sorts of instruments (Dobro, sitar, harpsichord, accordion) that might not have worked as well on a typical Nick Lowe production. The additional tracks include The Merseybeats' "Really Mystified" and a song originally written for the first solo LP from ABBA's Frida, which again sheds new light on Costello's later role as songwriter for Wendy James.

Almost Blue comes without the original warning sticker (about C&W music producing a radical reaction in narrow-minded people), which would have put a distasteful and dated stamp on the whole thing. The only song that really gets trashed in the reworking is Hank Williams' "Why Don't You Love Me" — the obligatory cow-punk track. What comes through loud and clear on the rest is Costello's dignified respect for Country giants such as George Jones and Patsy Cline. The additional tracks, recorded live in Aberdeen, include a pristine version of Cline's "She's Got You" and a splendid rendition of Johnny Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry." The sound on both is close to studio quality, but then Costello doesn't go in for messy arrangements, which is why the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra sounds so right on "I'm Your Toy" (live at the Royal Albert Hall), when most orchestra-backed pop comes too close to Muzak for comfort. The formality of the song serves as a fitting punctuation mark for both releases, which collectively rubbish the notion that there can ever be too much of a good thing.

Tags: Imperial BedroomAlmost BlueThe AttractionsSteve NieveBruce ThomasPete ThomasGeoff EmerickPaul McCartneyNick LoweThe MerseybeatsReally MystifiedABBAFridaWendy JamesHank WilliamsWhy Don't You Love Me (Like You Used To Do)?George JonesPatsy ClineAberdeenHe's Got YouJohnny CashCry, Cry, CryRoyal Philharmonic OrchestraI'm Your ToyRoyal Albert HallDeclan MacManusJake RivieraStiff RecordsStiffs Live TourWatching The DetectivesMy Aim Is True(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes Revenge and guiltCloverThe Sex PistolsThe Clash

Photo by Michael Putland. 1994-11-00 Vox photo 01 mp.jpg

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Vox, No. 50, November 1994

Michele Kirsch reviews the Demon reissues of Imperial Bedroom and Almost Blue.

Vox recalls Elvis Costello breaking through in November 1977.


1994-11-00 Vox clipping 01.jpg1994-11-00 Vox photo 02 gs.jpg
Photos by Michael Putland and Gus Stewart.

History today: Elvis Costello


1994-11-00 Vox clipping 02.jpg

November 1977 was the month that New Wave singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, née Declan MacManus, finally broke through, his bespectacled angry-young-man stance somehow standing out amid the greater excesses of the imploding punk movement. Costello had spent the spring of 1977 playing acoustic sets to A&R men only to be ejected by security guards. Fortunately for him, Jake Riviera's fledgling Stiff label couldn't afford such luxuries at the time, and signed him.

As the Stiff Live Tour took the 21-year-old around the country in late October, his fourth single, "Watching The Detectives" (Stiff), reached Number 15 and his well-crafted debut album My Aim Is True continued its three-month occupation of the Top 20. "Watching The Detectives" was typical Costello fare — a brittle rock-reggae beat matched with acerbic lyrics ("She's filing her nails while they're dragging the lake"). The word "bittersweet" was often thrown at the former computer programmer in 1977 but maybe just "bitter" would have been a better description of songs such as the brilliantly arranged pop rant "Red Shoes" ("I used to be disgusted but now I try to be amused"), and Costello added to the intensity of it all with interview quotes such as: "Revenge and guilt are the only emotions I know about."

Members of the US West Coast band Clover had been the backing band on his Nick Lowe-produced debut album, but for the latter half of 1977, Costello pulled in The Attractions — Bruce Thomas (bass), Pete Thomas (drums), Steve Nieve (keyboards) — and together they created a live reputation that became second to none in the late '70s, as the Pistols misfired and the doped-up Clash faltered.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Costello's output and ability did not flag. He ranks among the UK's Top Five songwriters and is still up there, discreetly sneering in, and at, the limelight.

1994-11-00 Vox cover.jpg


Magazine scans thanks to Fulvio Fiore.

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