BCB 100 - Elvis Costello

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Postby Jeff K » 04 Jul 2006, 23:02

Album: Armed Forces

Song Green Shirt with Shipbuilding a very close second.
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Postby Mychael » 04 Jul 2006, 23:26

Sue E. Cidal wrote:
Mike Boom wrote:
(e.g., "a German sense of humour"),


Well its a common generalization that they dont have one.


Well, they certainly won't have one now, will they?
hehe :twisted:


I heard that. :evil:
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Postby geoffcowgill » 04 Jul 2006, 23:28

Well, of course Mychael has a sense of humor. He picked something from North as one of his favorite Costello songs.

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Postby The Write Profile » 05 Jul 2006, 00:02

Jeff K wrote:
Song Green Shirt


Yes, that's a hell of a song isn't it? It's all in the arrangements, too, the whole thing prickles with menace, despite being ostensibly quite lighthearted. Certainly, it's one of the Costello tracks where the wordplay seems to amount to something , even if I'm not exactly sure what it's about- perhaps it's in the snapshots that the lyrics seems to conjure- the shorthand typist who takes "seconds over minutes" down at the Quisling Clinic, the seething contempt Costello has for the song's girl (you tease, you flirt, and you shine all the buttons on your green shirt).

Actually, the entirety of Armed Forces seems to have that mood to it, doesn't it? The production sounds a helluva lot shinier than its predecessor, the raging This Year's Model, but far less clipped than My Aim is True.

Actually, my favourite could be anyone of his records up to and including Imperial Bedroom, which might just be the summation of what he was working towards. The beautifully layered melodies, the snap-to-your-attention one-liners, the fleeting sense of despair. It's a remarkable LP about love and other catastrophes.

Regarding Man out of Time, I always assumed that it was about Costello's fight with alcholism and his confessions about adultery- he even said as much in an interview with Nick Kent (later compiled in Kent's The Dark Stuff) that the reason that his words were so enigmatic around this period was due to the fact that a lot of them were just coded references to adultery.

Get Happy!'s dollar-book Motown is another favourite Costello LP, perhaps it doesn't always work, but it's one of the more energetic, and it moves at such a fast clip that there's always something going on during it. High Fidelity and the covers being one among his standout moments in it, too.

Blood & Chocolate is, in a sense, This Year's Model revisited, even if the misanthropy is more uncontrolled, and overall the sequencing is slightly more haphazzard. That said, it has a great pressure-cooker sound to it, something that really comes to the fore during the bilious "I Want You" or the keening "Uncomplicated." Probably the last time he sounds vital,or at the very least, hungry, if that makes sense

To be honest, though, his work post-Blood & Chocolate has been largely very ropey. While I admire his desire to explore other genres, the results have been mostly shallow dilletantism. And it's not as if his work with the Attractions wasn't varied enough musically as it was, so it's strange that recent LPs should sound so mugged-up.

That said, he is a great musicologist, and although I don't have much time for his recent work, I really enjoy his writings and talks on music, as it's clear that he's a fan, with a broad taste and keen idea of what makes it good (for him, anyway)

Album: take your pick from My Aim is True to Imperial Bedroom (and possibly Blood & Chocolate)
Song: Green Shirt or Less than Zero, though there are many others from his early records.
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Postby Phil T » 05 Jul 2006, 10:08

Mychael wrote:
Sue E. Cidal wrote:
Mike Boom wrote:
(e.g., "a German sense of humour"),


Well its a common generalization that they dont have one.


Well, they certainly won't have one now, will they?
hehe :twisted:


I heard that. :evil:


:twisted: :twisted:

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Postby & » 05 Jul 2006, 14:11

Album: 'Armed Forces' (followed by 'Imperial Bedroom')
Song: Two Little Hitlers.
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Re: BCB 100 - Elvis Costello

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 05 Jul 2006, 20:21

geoffcowgill wrote:Some dolts will make the claim that Kundun (Juliet Letters) and Age Of Innocence (Painted From Memory) are worthless and he needs to go back to making things like Mean Streets (This Year's Model) and Taxi Driver (Armed Forces), but that just shows the limits of their interests, not the confines of the artist's talents.


I don't think that comparison works for me. Maybe its the difference in art forms, but a film like Kundun, while perhaps not meeting the expectations of fans, doesn't seem to be playing away from Scorsese's strengths the way The Juliet Letters did for Costello.

I want something different from an album than I want from a film. A song is something I'll revisit over and over again if it creeps into my consciousness. With a film, it is very rare that I'll see most of them more than once or twice a lifetime. For me, music needs to be something that fits into my life. With a movie, I'm more willing to be shown something alien for an hour or two.

As I said in the Tom Waits thread, post modern heroes like Costello are hard to talk about without dwelling unduly on the negative. I can pick Costello apart for hours, and yet he's one of my favorites. But its a complicated, sometimes maddening relationship that I have with his music.

Earlier in the thread toomanyhatz points out that Costello's songs lack the simplicity of pop's most enduring works. I second that sentiment. For all his virtuosity, Costello's written few songs that could be sung at a wedding, funeral, graduation or be generally useful in any of life's rituals. For all the talk early in his career about him being the "punk rock Cole Porter," where's his "Night and Day," "I Get a Kick Out of You," or "I've Got You Under My Skin?"

Perhaps Costello himself has noted this knock on his work and sought to address it with Painted From Memory and North, but even on those records simplicity eluded him. It always appears that he just can't accept the idea that he needn't work so hard for his supper.

But all of that is easily forgivable when you listen to Costello's best on its own terms. Much of it is simply undeniable. Unfortunately over the last few years, much of it has not been Costello at his best. It has been Costello as musical curator. His desire for experimentation and collaboration has led him to put himself next to almost everyone and everything he admires in others. But this approach often plays away from his strength as a singular voice. Sometimes, as in Painted From Memory, the collaboration is more inspired than not. More often it has been the other way around.

While I can find something to appreciate in most of his latter 'experimental' works - ultimately I just find very little to love. It all just feels too much like school. But for all my complaints, I would still buy a ticket to see him do almost anything tonight. And I still greet every new album with a measure of hope and eagerness. In my book he banked a ton of good will from My Aim is True all the way to Mighty Like a Rose. It'll pretty much take an album of duets with the London cast of "Annie" to get me to write him off completely.

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Re: BCB 100 - Elvis Costello

Postby Bungo the Mungo » 05 Jul 2006, 20:42

Davey The Fat Boy wrote:It'll pretty much take an album of duets with the London cast of "Annie" to get me to write him off completely.


I wouldn't put it past the fat wee fucker....

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Re: BCB 100 - Elvis Costello

Postby bixhenry » 05 Jul 2006, 23:54

Pop Pup wrote:
Davey The Fat Boy wrote:It'll pretty much take an album of duets with the London cast of "Annie" to get me to write him off completely.


I wouldn't put it past the fat wee fucker....


....who still pisses all over your favorite toothless Mancunian fucker :lol:

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Re: BCB 100 - Elvis Costello

Postby Bungo the Mungo » 05 Jul 2006, 23:56

bixhenry wrote:
Pop Pup wrote:
Davey The Fat Boy wrote:It'll pretty much take an album of duets with the London cast of "Annie" to get me to write him off completely.


I wouldn't put it past the fat wee fucker....


....who still pisses all over your favorite toothless Mancunian fucker :lol:


Oh! How dare you!!

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Re: BCB 100 - Elvis Costello

Postby The Write Profile » 06 Jul 2006, 00:17

Davey The Fat Boy wrote:
As I said in the Tom Waits thread, post modern heroes like Costello are hard to talk about without dwelling unduly on the negative. I can pick Costello apart for hours, and yet he's one of my favorites. But its a complicated, sometimes maddening relationship that I have with his music.

Earlier in the thread toomanyhatz points out that Costello's songs lack the simplicity of pop's most enduring works. I second that sentiment. For all his virtuosity, Costello's written few songs that could be sung at a wedding, funeral, graduation or be generally useful in any of life's rituals. For all the talk early in his career about him being the "punk rock Cole Porter," where's his "Night and Day," "I Get a Kick Out of You," or "I've Got You Under My Skin?"

Perhaps Costello himself has noted this knock on his work and sought to address it with Painted From Memory and North, but even on those records simplicity eluded him. It always appears that he just can't accept the idea that he needn't work so hard for his supper.

But all of that is easily forgivable when you listen to Costello's best on its own terms[....]. Unfortunately over the last few years, much of it has not been Costello at his best. It has been Costello as musical curator. His desire for experimentation and collaboration has led him to put himself next to almost everyone and everything he admires in others. But this approach often plays away from his strength as a singular voice. So
[...]It all just feels too much like school.



Yes, a lot of that's correct, isn't it? We can all freely accuse of Costello's later work being horribly studied, or worse, still academic, but perhaps that was always there to a degree. Even with the Attractions, he self-consciously genre-hopped, and there is something about his best, or most famous songs ("Alison" and maybe "Shipbuilding" aside, perhaps) that eludes true universality in the way those other artists you mentioned possessed.

Something like "New Amsterdam" revels in its own wordplay, and ultimately gets wrapped in its own self-conscious enigma, despite the sheer directness of its music. His voice, too, can be something of an acquired taste, despite claims it's become more palatable to unconverted ear (not that this matters when the material isn't as good).

So it's strange- with some exceptions, it's a case of me really liking his best, early work with the Attractions without actually loving it.

As for his later excursions into foreign (for him) musical territory, the reality is that he writes about a lot of it much better than actually performing it- his occasional pieces for Vanity Fair, and his linernotes for reissued albums (including his own) are often highly readable, and quite perceptive. It's just the moment he tries to (understandably) enact on these interests, something gets lost in the mix. Still, I don't begrudge the man for trying, but ultimately that's not the Costello material that connects with me.
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Re: BCB 100 - Elvis Costello

Postby & » 06 Jul 2006, 01:00

Davey The Fat Boy wrote:As I said in the Tom Waits thread, post modern heroes like Costello are hard to talk about without dwelling unduly on the negative. I can pick Costello apart for hours, and yet he's one of my favorites. But its a complicated, sometimes maddening relationship that I have with his music.


That's the fallout of postmodernism.

Artists like Costello, Andy Partridge, Tom Verlaine or whoever else come, by definition, with a certain weight of history on their shoulders. Being a late period player obliges you to acknowledge everything that went before you, gives rise to certain standard 'concepts' and 'movements' and forces you to go with your intelligence rather than your instinct if you want to stand out.

If Costello wrote 'All Shook Up', he wouldn't be treated any too well because writing a song like that today - and going for that sound - would constitute as being simplistic. The only way to get away with it would be a knowing reference to that period. Preferably tongue-in-cheek, at that. It brings a definite self-consciousness of a sort which wouldn't have existed in the 60s or so.

It's much like how the Cro Magnon cave paintings are impressive masterpieces but a nod and a wink would be the only way an artist could get away with doing that kind of stuff and avoid being kitsch.

I'm not sure I'm being entirely clear, but I'll try to phrase it better at some point. Excellent posts, btw, Davey and Matt.
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Re: BCB 100 - Elvis Costello

Postby take5_d_shorterer » 06 Jul 2006, 01:25

Davey The Fat Boy wrote:
Earlier in the thread toomanyhatz points out that Costello's songs lack the simplicity of pop's most enduring works. I second that sentiment. For all his virtuosity, Costello's written few songs that could be sung at a wedding, funeral, graduation or be generally useful in any of life's rituals. For all the talk early in his career about him being the "punk rock Cole Porter," where's his "Night and Day," "I Get a Kick Out of You," or "I've Got You Under My Skin?"



Talk about conflicted responses to a performer...

For some reason, I don't have such a complicated relationship with Costello's work.

Regarding the charge that his songs lack the directness and simplicity of some (though not all) pop hits, I would note something like his cover of Dylan's "I Threw It All Away" from Kojak Variety. True, he didn't write the track, but the vocal is very direct, and I prefer his rendition to a rendition I heard by Dylan. In fact, I would also say that Costello's rendition is more direct, and Dylan's is more mannered.

About the claim that he was a "punk Cole Porter" (a strange thought if there was one), I'm not sure what to say. Previously we were accusing him of being too mannered. Then we're asking why he isn't like one of the most mannered songwriters around. If we're playing this sort of game, then any artist is going to fail. We should recognize that.

**

Now, if you want direct music, I don't think you have to look any further than "Radio, Radio". That seems to be full-force bludgeoning. I also think that "Watching the Detectives" is equally direct in its own way.

**

One of the reasons I don't have such mixed feelings about Costello is that for me he fulfills a role than absolutely no one else was or is able to fill. There's no other song I can think of like "Oliver's Army". There's nothing like this skeptical worldview wrapped up in pop music. I mean, I like Gang of Four and all, but that's an entirely different bag. It's almost an obvious thing to be skeptical of market forces when your music is meant to shred people's faces off. It's a different thing to be skeptical using music that is more blatantly pop. Costello isn't as multi-talented as someone like Tom Waits (who really knows how to put together images and a stage act), but Costello lives in this world in a way that Waits does not. Sure, Waits uses turntables and sampling, but he doesn't, as Costello does, live in a world that is under the shadow of multinational corporations , which is the world we inhabit. There's no song like "Beyond Belief" anywhere else to be found.

It's as if Costello were the only one, situationists and Johnny Rotten be damned, who figured out a way to incorporate a critique about the machine that allows him to manufacture and peddle his product and spice that into the DNA of that product to send it out to breed more and more skepticism.

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Re: BCB 100 - Elvis Costello

Postby & » 06 Jul 2006, 01:32

take5_d_shorterer wrote: I would note something like his cover of Dylan's "I Threw It All Away" from Kojak Variety. True, he didn't write the track, but the vocal is very direct, and I prefer his rendition to a rendition I heard by Dylan. In fact, I would also say that Costello's rendition is more direct, and Dylan's is more mannered.


Dylan has a live version out on 'Hard Rain' which is about as direct as you can possibly make that song.

take5_d_shorterer wrote:It's as if Costello were the only one, situationists and Johnny Rotten be damned, who figured out a way to incorporate a critique about the machine that allows him to manufacture and peddle his product and spice that into the DNA of that product to send it out to breed more and more skepticism.


Sounds like he wants to bite the hand that feeds him, and wants to bite it badly.
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Re: BCB 100 - Elvis Costello

Postby geoffcowgill » 06 Jul 2006, 01:44

Davey The Fat Boy wrote:
geoffcowgill wrote:Some dolts will make the claim that Kundun (Juliet Letters) and Age Of Innocence (Painted From Memory) are worthless and he needs to go back to making things like Mean Streets (This Year's Model) and Taxi Driver (Armed Forces), but that just shows the limits of their interests, not the confines of the artist's talents.


I don't think that comparison works for me. Maybe its the difference in art forms, but a film like Kundun, while perhaps not meeting the expectations of fans, doesn't seem to be playing away from Scorsese's strengths the way The Juliet Letters did for Costello.


My pairings were a bit arbitrary, I'll admit. And you're right about the mediums being different enough that such a comparison is going to bend under any real analysis. But I think there are definitely moments on The Juliet Letters that if they don't play to Costello's strengths, his strengths definitely play to them. I think one of the essential differences between Scorsese and Costello (and one that makes Scorsese come out looking a bit better) is that Scorsese will spend years on a project, whereas Costello seems to always have a couple of irons in the fire and just churns out these disparate recordings at a speed that suggests, not carelessness, but less restraint perhaps. My point in comparing Scorsese and Costello was that both are artists whose brilliance and impact in their early work has pigeonholed them for many viewers/listeners who can't see their explorations into other areas as anything other than misguided dabbling. I don't think the results support this view, though they may not be always entirely successful. I guess it comes down to defining the strengths of the artists.

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Postby The Write Profile » 06 Jul 2006, 02:07

Looking over the last post I made, it comes accross a bit more conservative than I intended, actually! It's strange, really that I talked about Mr Costello's early work in terms probably better suited to Wire (a band that I like a lot) than someone as take5 points out, really can be quite conventionally pleasing, at least in terms of his best work.

At times, he could hit the mark with a bullseye- "Watching the Detectives" is indeed fantastic, I love the playing on that sound, the snaking rhythms and just the wordplay, essentially because it seems to add up to something. In saying that, maybe the reason why Costello would be a difficult artist to cover is because he was essentially a selfenclosed unit. I mean, he had it worked out, right down to the misanthropic Buddy Holly-glasses look. Maybe it's just something you have to buy into, I don't know. At the heart, he was just a pop songwriter, not a deconstructualist.

Which I suppose is just a longwinded way of seeing, that, in spite of his eclecticism, I think he only worked best when that eclecticism was mediated through others.
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Re: BCB 100 - Elvis Costello

Postby king feeb » 06 Jul 2006, 03:10

bixhenry wrote:
Pop Pup wrote:
Davey The Fat Boy wrote:It'll pretty much take an album of duets with the London cast of "Annie" to get me to write him off completely.


I wouldn't put it past the fat wee fucker....


....who still pisses all over your favorite toothless Mancunian fucker :lol:


Ahhh. Mark E. probably likes that sort of thing anyway. And at least MES, even at his worst, hasn't released completely unlistenable dilitantisms like North and The Juliet Letters (North has the distinction of actually driving me out of a music store with it's sheer stident pretentiousness- it sounded like a Berklee student ripping off Gil Evans! Just awful!). And I pretty much agree with Davey's comments on The Juliet Letters. Costello's output is all over the place and it would be excusable if these out-of-genre experiments were even occasionally successful, but they are mostly self-conscious abortions of overweening musical ambition (his forays into country being the only exceptions). What a waste of talent and occasionally, good material!

Nonetheless, I really like his real albums, you know, the ones that don't have opera singers or chamber orchestras. The ones where he performs in a natural style that he had a major part in inventing. Such as..

Album: Get Happy (a "dark horse" choice-but I'm in a spiky mood tonight!)

Song: "Lipstick Vogue"
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Postby & » 06 Jul 2006, 03:11

The Right Scarfie Profile wrote:Which I suppose is just a longwinded way of seeing, that, in spite of his eclecticism, I think he only worked best when that eclecticism was mediated through others.


i.e., the guy needs The Attractions! :D
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Postby Mike Boom » 06 Jul 2006, 04:06

For those who claim Costello lacks directness may I point you in the direction of "I Want You" - you won't find a more direct track by anyone, I mean songs just dont get more direct than that.

And as for being the punk Cole Porter or whatever - that was what some misguided critic wrote around the time of "Imperial Bedroom". Costello never claimed that, and if we're gonna criticise artists for not being what critics said they are, well it just gets a bit silly really doesn't it?

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Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 06 Jul 2006, 06:25

Wow - what a great thread this has turned out to be.


Mike Boom wrote:For those who claim Costello lacks directness may I point you in the direction of "I Want You" - you won't find a more direct track by anyone, I mean songs just dont get more direct than that.



One of my favorites. But I don't agree that "songs don't get more direct."

DIRECT:
I'd rather see you dead little girl, than to be with another man

NOT QUITE AS DIRECT

Your fingernails go dragging down the wall....
You said "Young man I do believe you're dying"....
If you need a second opinion as you seem to do these days....
Since when were you so generous and inarticulate...etc...etc...

And as for being the punk Cole Porter or whatever - that was what some misguided critic wrote around the time of "Imperial Bedroom". Costello never claimed that, and if we're gonna criticise artists for not being what critics said they are, well it just gets a bit silly really doesn't it?


I never said that Costello called himself that, nor was I criticizing him for not being it. I'm merely pointing out the discrepancy between his reputation and reality.
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