Elvis Costello solo is an intriguing prospect for the legion of fans who know him only from his big-selling albums with the Attractions and later, country and orchestral ensembles.
The angry young Englishman (depicted below) of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s has however been getting rave reviews during his international concert tour with Texan solo act T-Bone Burnett.
Both artists perform one New Zealand concert – at His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland – on June 27 so New Zealanders can judge for themselves whether the new style is an improvement.
Costello launched his career on a rebellious note – after all, he was competing with the Sex Pistols for public attention – prompting one English writer to comment that he "looked like Buddy Holly but this wimp was going to write the book of hate."
From a promising but inconsistent first album, Costello went on to produce the impressive This Year's Model with the Attractions, his three piece backing band.
The classic Armed Forces album which Costello claimed was strongly influenced by ABBA, established him as an artist with both credibility and mass appeal – even if some critics condemned his bitchy lyrics.
His promising career received a blow on a subsequent American tour when, in a drunken argument with Bonnie Bramlett and members of the Stephen Stills band, he made an unfortunate remark about Ray Charles.
The echoes of that conversation in a Columbus, Ohio, bar echoed around the world and Costello faced accusations of racism from the media.
The subsequent scandal caused Costello to retire and reconsider his position. As a musical campaigner against fascism he was a little offended by the publicity.
Since then his career has been erratic – he has produced records for a variety of acts and made experimental albums like Almost Blue, Imperial Bedroom and the landmark Get Happy – a set of ‘60s-style soul offerings.
He describes his latest work as "subversive." New Zealand is about to find out what that means.