Creem, March 1982

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US rock magazines


Almost Blue

Elvis Costello And The Attractions

Craig Zeller

I'm reminded of that Honeymooners episode where, in Alice's absence, Ed gives Ralph a hand with the household chores by doing a little ironing. Stretched out on the board is Ralph's beloved bowling shirt with "Hurricanes" stitched across the back. Ed gets distracted, leaves the iron sitting on the shirt and before you can say "Bang! Zoom!" it's presto scorcho time. Just before he throws one of his gargantuan fits, Kramden inquires of Norton: "Is this your idea of a joke?" To which America's favorite engineer of subterranean sanitation replies: "No, that's my idea of a burn."

Almost Blue is my idea of a burn. It's certainly no joke. Costello has always had a soft spot in his solar plexus for country music; after all, the flipside of his first Stiff single was a C&W lamenter called "Radio Sweetheart." And even king weeper George Jones thought enough of Elvis's "Stranger In The House" to record it himself. But they were side trips, not the sort of main roads an angry young rocker like Costello was meant to go careening down.

Almost Blue is one big side trip. The main problem is that he didn't write any of this stuff. Every damn song's a cover . . . although this shouldn't really be cause for any initial alarm. Recall the verve he implanted in Sam & Dave's "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" and Betty Everett's "Getting Mighty Crowded." But they were from the realm of soul music which is only a stone's throw from E.C.'s original rock 'n' roll base. But these country cuts, whilst sharing lyrical kinship with fave E.C. themes like betrayal and rejection, are musically turgid strangers in town.

It didn't have to be that way, but it appears that producer Billy Sherrill cowed the Attractions into submission – they've never sounded so docile or sluggish with pianist Steve Neive (what happened to "i" before "e"?) particularly asleep-at-the-wheel. Add to this "special guest" John McFee's pedal steel yin-yang twangs, occasional syrupy string arrangements and embalmed female back-up singers and you've got musical mildew up the drain pipe.

None of which would have if Costello had taken the trouble to put some conviction in his crooning. Time after time he comes off like some hack lounge singer coming to fingertip grips with heartbreak. Only thing is, the heartbreak's drowning in a sea of clichéd saphead angst vocal mechanisms. Somebody shoulda whacked that whine right outta his voicebox.

There's at least a half a dozen classic songs here by people like Merle Haggard, Charlie Rich, Hank Williams, Gram Parsons, Don Gibson, Big Joe Turner (token blues) and (surprise!) George Jones. All are available in their original (and far superior) versions as either 45's or assorted album cuts. Especially bad is Costello's trampling stampede job on Hank's "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used To Do)" and the flattened out dixie cup-depth he brings to Gram's mournfully sad "Hot Burrito #1."

So pass this by unless you're a diehard Costello fan (and even then you should think twice) and go score copies of the Burrito Bros Gilded Palace Of Sin, The Fabulous Charlie Rich or a good greatest hits set by Hank Williams or Patsy Cline. And wait for Elvis' next set of covers, one that sticks to nothing but R&B and soul standards. Working title: Almost Black.

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Creem, March 1982

Craig Zeller reviews Almost Blue.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions place in the '81 Readers' Poll.


1982-03-00 Creem pg 54.jpg
Page scan.

'81 Readers' Poll


Elvis Costello, Steve Nieve, Nick Lowe and Squeeze placed in the following categories:

1982-03-00 Creem pg 37.jpg


  1. Tattoo You — Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones Records)
  2. Fair Warning — Van Halen (Warner Bros.)
  3. Give The People What They Want — Kinks (Arista)
  4. Sandinista! — Clash (Columbia)
  5. Moving Pictures — Rush (Mercury)
  6. Ghost In The Machine — Police (A&M)
  7. Don't Say No — Billy Squier (Capitol)
  8. Beauty & The Beat — Go-Go's (I.R.S.)
  9. Escape — Journey (Columbia)
  10. Foreigner 4 — Foreigner (Atlantic)
  11. Hard Promises — Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Backstreet)
  12. High 'N' Dry — Def Leppard (Mercury)
  13. Pretenders II — Pretenders (Sire)
  14. Talk, Talk, Talk — Psychedelic Furs (Columbia)
  15. Precious Time — Pat Benatar (Chrysalis)
  16. Blizzard Of Ozz — Ozzy Osbourne (Jet)
  17. Trust — Elvis Costello & the Attractions (Columbia)
  18. King Of The Wild Frontier — Adam & the Ants (Epic)
  19. Hi Infidelity — REO Speedwagon (Epic)
  20. Fire Of Unknown Origin — Blue Oyster Cult (Columbia)
  21. New Traditionalists — Devo (Warner Bros.)
  22. Bella Donna — Stevie Nicks (Modern)
  23. El Loco — ZZ Top (Warner Bros.)
  24. Exit Stage Left — Rush (Mercury)
  25. Season Of Glass — Yoko Ono (Geffen)


  1. Start Me Up — Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones Records)
  2. Super Freak — Rick James & The Stone City Band (Motown)
  3. Centerfold — J. Geils Band (EMI America)
  4. Being With You — Smokey Robinson (Motown)
  5. Controversy — Prince (Warner Bros.)
  6. Endless Love — Diana Ross & Lionel Richie (Motown)
  7. Oh, No — Commodores (Motown)
  8. Slowhand Pointer Sisters (Planet)
  9. Tempted — Squeeze (A&M)
  10. Too Hot Kool & the Gang (De-Lite)


  1. Rolling Stones
  2. The Clash
  3. Van Halen
  4. The Kinks
  5. The Pretenders
  6. AC/DC
  7. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
  8. Led Zeppelin
  9. The Police
    1982-03-00 Creem pg 38.jpg
  10. Rush
  11. The Who
  12. Journey
  13. The Ramones
  14. Squeeze
  15. The Cars
  16. Def Leppard
  17. The Jam
  18. Tom Petty & Heartbreakers
  19. Devo
  20. Elvis Costello & the Attractions
  21. Foreigner
  22. Judas Priest
  23. Talking Heads
  24. Blue Oyster Cult
  25. Adam & the Ants


  1. The Rolling Stones
  2. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
  3. Van Halen
  4. The Kinks
  5. AC/DC
  6. Rush
  7. The Pretenders
  8. The Clash
  9. The Ramones
  10. The Who
  11. Journey
  12. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  13. Devo
  14. Elvis Costello & the Attractions
  15. The Plasmatics
  16. Judas Priest
  17. The Police
  18. Cheap Trick
  19. The Tubes
  20. Def Leppard
  21. Blue Oyster Cult
  22. Rick James & Stone City Band
  23. U2
  24. Foreigner
  25. ZZ Top


  1. Bruce Springsteen
  2. Mick Jagger
  3. David Lee Roth
  4. Steve Perry
  5. Elvis Costello
  6. Robert Plant
  7. Ray Davies
  8. Billy Squier
  9. Joe Strummer
  10. Robin Zander


  1. John Paul Jones
  2. Roy Bittan
  3. Jonathan Cain
  4. Greg Hawkes
  5. Keith Emerson
  6. Rick Wakeman
  7. Steve Nieve
  8. Ian Stewart
  9. Brian Eno
  10. Mickey Gallagher


  1. John Entwistle
  2. Bill Wyman
  3. Geddy Lee
  4. Sting
  5. Paul Simonon
  6. Michael Anthony
  7. John Paul Jones
  8. Tina Weymouth
  9. Nick Lowe
  10. Robbie Shakespeare

1982-03-00 Creem pg 39.jpg


  1. The Glimmer Twins
  2. Ted Templeman
  3. Jimmy Page
  4. Nick Lowe
  5. Steve Lilywhite
  6. Roy Thomas Baker
  7. Ray Davies
  8. Brian Eno
  9. Robert John "Mutt" Lange
  10. Jimmy Iovine


  1. Jagger / Richards
  2. Ray Davies
  3. Strummer / Jones
  4. Bruce Springsteen
  5. Elvis Costello
  6. Page / Plant
  7. Pete Townshend
  8. Tom Petty
  9. Chrissie Hynde
  10. Sting


  1. Bob Marley's Death
  2. Pretenders II
  3. Led Zeppelin didn't reform.
  4. The Who
  5. The Rolling Stones
  6. Ronald Reagan
  7. Rockpile break-up.
  8. Creem price hike
  9. Debbie Harry's Koo Koo
  10. PiL

1982-03-00 Creem cover.jpg 1982-03-00 Creem pg 55.jpg
Cover and page scan.


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