Elvis Costello Sam Sutherland - Essay

Sam Sutherland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Costello is the press agent's dream: a galvanic artist whose screwball appearance only heightens the force of his debut album, "My Aim Is True." If he appears to suffer from temporal dislocation, the visual symptoms only reinforce his music's rock classicism….

His songs are ripe with a sense of history and a barbed wit, but he is neither a nostalgic impersonator nor a parodist. Visual and musical echoes of the '50s and '60s are undeniably there, but as a singer and writer, he appears to have absorbed his influences enough to obscure any singular models….

Nor does Costello typify New Wave's assumed flamboyant primitivism…. [Both] playing and songwriting attest to a melodic sense forged directly from the best rock and pop sources. Welcome to the Working Week, which opens the album, may carry a scathing contempt for middle-class verities, but it rocks like crazy and even manages to kid Costello's own imminent celebrity….

That tension between genuine rage and saving humor emerges as one of the album's, and the artist's, most convincing virtues. Less than Zero salts its blunt nihilism … with a quirky surrealism as pithy and truly funny as some of Dylan's more whimsical mid-'60s mindgames, yet the wordless refrain is at least as close to simple r&b workouts. Such intriguing fusions of musical and verbal sense recur throughout. (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes,...

(The entire section is 433 words.)