Do you like the music of Elvis Costello?
Hmm. Visualise me stroking my chin please. Okay - got that? Good. I'll begin. But I haven't met him!
I’ve been thinking long and hard about the question you posed, do I like Elvis Costello? Try as I may, no simple answer emerges and I can only give you a series of answers which – in combination – will give you some idea of my current thoughts.
Superficially of course, having not met the man, I cannot say with any authority that I do or don’t like him as a person, as distinct from commenting on his music. Certainly one gains an impression of a celebrity from what they say in print, what has been claimed they say, also in print – and so on. I’m somewhat reluctant to make a judgement based on third-party so called “evidence”. It’s impossible of course to know the agenda the journalist was applying at that time. So the simple answer to your question is, no, I don’t know whether I like him or not because I haven’t met him.
The Ray Charles Incident
Having said this, his outburst (for which he apologised and was forgiven by Ray Charles for) describing Mr. Charles as a ”blind, ignorant, nigger” was worthy of contempt. MORE
Moving on to perhaps something more relevant to both you and I, is my views regarding his music. And once again I find that there is no simple answer to this. If I look at his early music from the standpoint of a being a hifi retailer using “My Aim Is True” and “This Years Model” as demo records, I never tired of listening to them. I never felt a groan deep inside me when a customer brought in one of those two albums. This is in marked contrast, say, to Dire Straits and “Brothers In Arms”
Not only did I find EC’s music of that era vibrant, compelling and alive and a wonderful contrast to the somewhat turgid sound of progressive rock that was around at that time, but the quality of the recording was outstanding and there were a number of tracks which I and fellow retailers really liked to use to demonstrate the transient capability of systems.
High on our list ......
Of course at the end of the working day when the customers have gone home, and we may be winding down, you might wonder what it is that we decided to play, free from the influences of customers. High on our list in the the late 1970s were the first two albums by Elvis Costello.
The point being I think that however frequently we were exposed to his music (of that era), we didn’t get tired of listening to it. But as the years went by though and his style evolved (I can’t think of a better word than this), I found that repeated exposure to his music didn’t give me the same sort of excitement and thrill as the early stuff. Frankly I found some of the lyrics somewhat turgid, mawkish and over sentimental. “Goodbye Cruel World”, “Spike”, “Mighty Like a Rose” and “Kojak Variety” were not what I was hoping for at all.
Over exposure perhaps?
I realise that he may indeed be an accomplished lyricist, but I feel that he had moved too far away from his traditional roots for my liking. It may well be that I have judged his music unfairly over this but there was a period of time about two to three years ago when seemingly every rock magazine had a comment from Elvis Costello, every television documentary had a performance or a contribution from Elvis Costello and I think on balance he suffered from over-exposure – certainly in my eyes.
Against all of this you might be surprised to know that my musical tastes are extremely wide ranging all the way from classical music right through to grunge. I am at heart a Who fanatic but I also like many other forms of music, in fact everything except hip-hop and rap, which despite what I am told the contrary, I cannot get my head around. I still view them, perhaps unfairly, as merely being a noise rather than music as I grew up to understand it.