At last, an artist for Greeks and Independents, who lyrically draws the cynical picture of the seventy's wasteland that one would expect of a burned romantic: who musically draws on some of the finest traditions of rock 'n' roll — from the Phil Spector sound of "No dancing" to the hard driving jailhouse rock riffing of "Mystery Dance." Combine this with the Cinderella success story of his career thus far and you have the first artist of potentially stellar proportions to emerge from the chaotic quagmire of New Wave.
Of whom do I speak? None other than one Elvis Costello, only eight months ago a computer programmer in Acton, England. He'd been sending demos to various sundry record companies for more than a year when Dave Robinson of Stiff Records heard him and signed him for the cost of a tape recorder and an amp. Producer Nick Lowe took him under his wing and produced an unnoticed single or two, until Elvis decided to literally take his cause to the streets by performing outside the hotel where CBS records were holding their convention. For the price of a summons for being a public nuisance, Elvis received the notice of CBS executives and the stateside release of his album, My Aim Is True. Backed by the rumor campaign that had preceded it, it sold ten to twenty thousand copies a week its first six weeks on the racks and hit Billboard's National Breakout List and their Top Request-Airplay list.
Don't be frightened by the Poindexter on the cover, this is no Buddy Holly clone and don't let the New Wave associations scare you off either; this is an entertainer with the musical breadth and depth to appeal to a wide range of tastes. The album contains a strikingly pretty ballad, "Allison," the reggae influenced "Watchin' The Detectives," the surreal "Waiting for the End of the World" and the political alienation of "Less than Zero": a tune that reacts on a gut level to the BBC's abetting the revival of British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley:
"Oswald and his sister are doin' it again
They got the finest home movies you have ever seen
They gut a thousand variations, service with a smile
They're gonna take a little break
They'll be back after awhile
I hear that South America is coming into style"
"A pistol was still smokin' a man lay on the floor.
Mr. Oswald said he had an understanding with the law.
Said he heard about a couple in thr USA,
traded in their baby for a brand new Chevrolet."
The other side of the coin is the young innocent of "Mystery Dance":
"Well I remember when the lights went out,
and I was trying to make it like it was never in doubt
I thought that she knew and she thought that I knew
So both of us were willing but we didn't know how to do it"
Three weeks ago, Elvis appeared at the Paramount courtesy of the Catch A Rising Star series of concerts, to a full house. After one of the most gripping concert sets it has been my pleasure to experience, some pencil neck in the balcony threw an M-80 at the stage, as is currently the rage at concerts. Pent-up road tensions exploded and the musicians threw down their instruments, returning only at Elvis' urging to finish the song they were performing. Wrapping up with a bit of stage and instrument destruction a la The Who they left a breathless, thunderstruck audience. Refusing to do an encore hopefully taught someone a lesson. It's not the first time Elvis has related to an audience on such a one to one level. In L.A. he dove into the front row to defend a young lady's honor from an attacker — chivalry is not dead.
As opposed to the incendiary burnout of the Sex Pistols or the camp appeal of the Ramones, Elvis stands on his own. He glared out at everyone there and right through them with the look of a man who is ready to take stardom on its own terms without sacrificing any of that rare quality known as "artistic integrity." The man has something to say and has his own way to rock and as far as he's concerned if you don't like it then you're no better than the people he strikes out at in his songs, or as the current ad campaign so aptly puts it: "Elvis Costello — Is he on your list? — Are you on His?"