The triumph of marketing over mediocrity? Part #2 (of 4): Elvis Costello. My view, and the supporting evidence.

…But is Elvis Costello one? Not really, though he has become fatter over the years. It sounds like a trite criticism, but I think Costello’s increasing weight has affected his musical ability… When I was growing up in the 80s I knew and loved his songs, especially the melodically catchy, but politically tinged, ‘Oliver’s Army,’ and ‘Accidents Will Happen’ from ‘Armed Forces’ (1979) and the brilliant, exhilarating ‘Pump It Up’ from ‘This Year’s Model’ (1978). That he is a genius songwriter is in no doubt, and to say differently would be inaccurate. I think he has been marketed positively, as the Costello reissues have included many extra tracks, sometimes onto a second CD.

However – there are some dodgier moments, as when he collaborated in songwriting partnerships with Paul McCartney during the late 80s and 90s where they shared credits on respective albums. Why would such a brilliant wordsmith need any external help, even from McCartney? Was Costello running out of creative steam at this point?

Possibly, because I think his music became less special after ‘King Of America’ & ‘Blood And Chocolate’ (both 1986), as each album afterwards (and his gradual but inexorable increase in weight) showcased a different, less interesting artist to me. The one latter exception is the excellent ‘Brutal Youth’ (1994) which retains the fiery spark of his early output. Costello has also had a few cringe-worthy ‘Ben Elton’ moments.

Ben Elton used to be amazing; he co-wrote the peerless ‘Blackadder’ starring Rowan Atkinson and used to be a good, anti-establishment stand-up comedian. But latterly Elton has become blandness personified with his Daily-Mail-baiting West End musicals and also working with Andrew Lloyd Webber. You can check via the referenced ‘criticism’ section on Elton in Wikipedia for more details.

This ‘Ben Elton’ analogy is an apt one as I can remember seeing Burt Bacharach and Costello performing ‘I'll Never Fall In Love Again’ in the movie ‘Austin Powers II: The Spy Who Shagged Me.’ How could two songwriting greats fall so low from grace – even in self-mocking parody? It was painful to watch. And the second was the song ‘She’ from the risible Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant movie ‘Notting Hill’ – utter musical drivel (yes, unfortunately I have seen it, and still regretting it today). He is a lucky guy though – having recently married the very attractive and talented Diana Krall.

And that’s that.

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