Elvis Costello is the new Graham Parker, who was sort of the new Bruce Springsteen, who saved the day when rock got boring a few years ago... Well, it goes something like that.
The saviors get punkier and punkier, which isn't necessarily bad. Elvis Costello, however, is not exactly a punk like, say, Johnny Rotten. Costello seems much too meek to be that.
What he is a 22-year-old former computer operator from England who recently turned to music and now has an album out that is setting the rock avant garde on its much-abused ear.
Costello does exhibit the proper punk alienation. In a widely quoted interview, he explained that he doesn't write about love because he doesn't know anything about it. All he knows about is revenge and guilt, and his songs are full of that.
The songs zip right along, sounding more like Parker than like any punk band. Costello's band is tighter than most punk bands, though not as tight as Parker's Rumour. There's a little rockabilly in the songs, a little reggae, a little R&B.
Not all of the songs work as well as a lot of critics' think they do. Side 1 doesn't pick up until the fourth of seven songs, a ballad called "Allison."
Here the full force of Costello's sometimes bleak but usually intelligent lyrics comes through. "I think somebody better put out the big light," he sings in his throaty voice. "I can't stand to see you this way."
In the next song, a powerful reggae number called "Watching the Detective," he alludes to a woman "filing her nails while they're dragging the lake." New wave groups even those on the edge of the wave like Costello show a special affinity for the reggae sound.
There are two outstanding songs on Side 2. The first, "The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes," is about being rejected. The second, a Chuck Berry-type rocker, is called "Mystery Dance" and the mystery is sex: "You see those pictures in a magazine, but what's the use of lookin' when you don't know what they mean."
But there are low points as well as high points. Some of the songs aren't very interesting, and the band isn't heard to advantage.