In the tawdry, rather untalented world of punk rock lies a jewel who appears to be a jerk — Elvis Costello.
While other new wave artists babble, Elvis sings with the wit of a street-wise punk. While the Sex Pistols search without success for the lost chord (or any chord at all), Costello strings together pleasing melodies.
Costello's new album, This Year's Model (CBS JC 35331), is a treat and a welcome respite from mindless drivel being hailed as the new wave of music. Most of punk, which was supposed to save us from the insipid '70s pop music, has been rejected by the American market and is fading in England.
But there will be survivors and Costello is one of them.
He is visual pollution in black-rimmed glasses with a haircut handed down from Buddy Holly. His stringy ties and thrift shop coat and Levis with rolled-up cuffs are Plaza Park originals.
Obviously, his musicianship sells his records, not his costume.
Costello, born Declan Patrick McManus in London, has been quoted to the effect that punk bands ran out of ideas and energy. He hopes the same thing will not happen to him, but of course, it happens to all pop artists.
Actually, his output of quality material is amazing. In the past year, he has released two albums — Model and My Aim Is True — with a total of 24 original tunes. His new album does not show any sign of deterioration. In fact, this latest release is more consistent than last year's.
Much is made of Costello's spare sound, consisting of guitar, drums and keyboards. He says groups such as Boston that use a lot of orchestration are sexless and therefore anti-rock. "Rock 'n' roll is about sex and they might as well be eunuchs," Costello says.
The sound of Model is clear and uncluttered, allowing Costello's wit to surface, much in the style of early British groups in the '60s when they toured America with small ensembles and semi-angry lyrics.
Costello has simply updated the Stones' "Satisfaction" with a song called "Radio, Radio."
Mick Jagger griped about the "Man," specifically advertising, on "Satisfaction."
Costello rips into the same establishment types, namely record company executives and radio programmers, with:
"You either shut up or get cut out.
They don't wanna hear about it.
It's only inches on the reel-to-reel.
And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools.
Trying to anesthetize the way you feel.
Costello is concerned about the lack of alternatives to Boston and groups of the same ilk. He is wrong. After all, CBS Records, a very establishment-oriented label, is giving him a shot.
He is now touring the United States with probably the dullest act ever brought to the rock stage. He stands at the microphone for a couple of dozen numbers, spitting out songs in machine-gun fashion with little regard for his listeners. He moves only when projectiles are hurled from the audience.
If he comes to Sacramento, think twice before going to see the new Elvis. But if you want a dose of good rock and roll, buy either of his records. His aim is true on both years' models.