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Elvis Costello is STILL This Year’s Model

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Born August 25, 1954, Declan Patrick Aloysius McManus aka Elvis Costello turns 49 today. Happy Birthday!!!

Not to put too fine a point on it, Elvis is as accomplished a composer, singer, live performer and record maker as has come out of the rock music tradition. In a quarter century plus of building “Little Palaces,” he has long since having surpassed even the artistic achievement of the dead Elvis.

On top of which, after a quarter century Elvis is still somewhere near the top of his game. He made the album of the year for 2002, When I Was Cruel. Oh, yeah, just a couple of weeks until the new North album comes out. Life is good.

Most musicians are best served in best-of packages. Elvis makes the exception that proves the rule. His albums tend to have strongly developed cohesion in unique styles and theme, and production styles. In addition, he has most often had such high consistency in his songwriting as to have whole albums full of good songs.

Consider this, then, as an Elvis primer. The Elvis Costello neophyte would be best served to start with these ten albums, in this order of discovery:

My Aim Is True
This Year’s Model
Armed Forces
Imperial Bedroom
King of America
When I Was Cruel
The Juliet Letters
Mighty Like a Rose

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  • Sean, I did indeed struggle with leaving Get Happy! off the list. That was probably my next entry, although Blood and Chocolate and Punch the Clock pain me by their absence as well.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    I don’t find Spike spiteful. I think it’s one of Elvis’ least angry albums, in fact, as “God’s Comic”, “Chewing Gum,” “This Town”, and a couple of others show a lot of humor, and “Veronica” and “Deep Dark” show a lot of love for their protagnonists.

    “Tramp the Dirt Down,” is indeed quite nasty, aimed at a worthy target who could certainyl take it.

    Not sure of your definition of “substandard,” Rodney. What are your specific criticisms, compared to the Elvis you do like?

  • Spike isn’t Costello at his best — just him at his most spiteful, which isn’t the same thing. I played the tape some weeks ago and found that the words and music had dated rather badly. It is sub-standard work.

  • Eric Olsen

    CC, totally agree with you here, I like “Spike” a lot – uptempo, tuneful Elvis is the best Elvis.

  • yessiree, Spike is fantastic.

    my favorite track is Let Him Dangle…Elvis at his nasty best, plus jazz skronk god Marc Ribot on guitar.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    And “Get Happy” is just perfect. It’s like this little mini-rock band churning out minimalist nuggets of Stax and Motown-influenced stuff, but with much smarter, funnier lyrics. Nieve is in charge here, racing the other guys to the ends of most of the tunes (“I Stand Accused,” “I Can’t Stand Up”) or filling up the mix with a washy, Leslie-like organ on the slow ones (“Riot Act,” “Motel Matches.”)
    Also, great, funky bass throughout, especially on “B-Movie.”
    Yes. Get happy.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Spike is a very underrated album, and contains some of EC’s better political/topical songs. It also has “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror,” which is just great. I’ll never understand why this album is dissed by critics and some fans. I suspect the reason is the presence of Paul McCartney, who collaborated on a couple of tunes here. Also, maybe it’s disliked because it had a hit (“Veronica”). But to me, this is accessible, pop-oriented Elvis, at the peak of his powers.

  • Ditto, Sean — also Punch the Clock. Both are leagues beyond Spike, that’s for sure.

  • Sean

    Good article and I generally agree with the sentiments expressed therein. My only real quibble is with your list for the new listener. How could you leave ‘Get Happy’ off the list?

  • He wrote that song specifically as a parody of Smokey Robinson. He’s described it as “a bad Smokey Robinson song.”

    If you’ve never seen the video, it’s almost better than the very good song, with actors playing Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Charles is sitting at his typewriter plugging away on the book (while wearing boxing gloves). Meanwhile Di is watching cheesy swashbuckling romantic b&w movies, intermittently looking over at Charles and sighing. This is really my most lasting impression of Diana.

    The song is great. The video is great. It’s all good.

  • Every Day I Write The Book – a great EC song and I didn’t know he was AKA Declan McManus.

    Don’t tell me you don’t know the difference
    Between a lover and a fighter
    With my pen and my electric typewriter
    Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal
    I’d still own the film rights and be working on the sequel

    You have to wonder if Elvis wasn’t talking about his own career when penning this.