- What separates Costello, who records for Vivendi Universal labels, from the pack is that he has endured so admirably. He has had a real career, which started when he began cutting 45s (yes, it was, sigh, long ago) back in 1976. He released his landmark debut album, “My Aim Is True,” in the fall of 1977 in the U.S. Costello has always tried to make interesting music, even when his musical experiments cost him opportunities to make millions instead of taking the main chance and sticking to the same musical style, album after album.
Achieving longevity in the music business is, indeed, a rarity. It’s even more unlikely, perhaps, when you remember that Costello has never had a No. 1 album or single record (He hit No. 2 in England with the single release of “Oliver’s Army” in 1979 and was ever-so-briefly, a certifiable pop star).
Costello’s trademark has always been making music on his terms. He has shifted joyfully from one musical form to another. He made his mark in the late 1970s with a loud, intense burst of organ-guitar driven music, characterized by such classic albums as “This Years Model,” “Armed Forces” and “Get Happy!!”
Then he broke with his nervy image for a little while. Enamored of American country music, he even traveled from his base in London to Nashville during the height of the New Wave scene in 1981 and recorded an album of country music standards called “Almost Blue” with the Attractions. It was a daring, commercially disastrous move.
In 1986, perhaps his greatest year, he released two brilliant albums. “King of America,” recorded in Los Angeles, featured acoustic guitar-tinged masterpieces made by Costello and L.A. studio musicians. “Blood and Chocolate” followed it and featured wild, bashing dance music made by Costello, back on a howling electric guitar, and the Attractions in London.
In the fall of ’86, Costello toured the U.S. in small halls, with both groups of musicians in tow, and featured the “Spectacular Spinning Songbook.”
It was actually a colorful wheel, which listed the titles of his songs. He invited audience members to come on stage and spin the wheel and select the songs. The concerts produced a lot of laughs and memorable music and Costello lost money by doing it.
To this day, he continues to follow his muse.
Um, no. Frankly, Costello hasn’t come close to the glory of those first three albums ever since: a run through of his excellent 2-CD career retrospective The Very Best Of makes this very clear. Elvis did very well with last year’s When I Was Cruel, finishing in the top ten of the Critiquees, and his balls-out performance of the Clash’s “London Calling” at the Grammys was a hopeful sign that he can still rock with a vengeance.