Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Elvis C.

I've decided, after many years of trying, that I don't like Elvis Costello.  It takes too much effort, more than it's usually worth.  He's a good songwriter but you have to really pay attention to him to ever grasp that.  Nothing is ever easy with him.  His songs are only self-explanatory in that they are dull.  Mostly his songs bore me by the time his best verses arrive, always towards the end of the song, once I've already stopped listening.  It's tiring to pay so much forced attention to something in the hope of deriving pleasure from it.  It's like listening to a medieval tapestry. 

At first I thought he was almost an English Bob Dylan, with his open contemptuousness towards sentiment. But then he just kept seeming to come across as nothing but a snotty little prick, with open contempt for everything that was not Elvis Costello.  You get the feeling that his closest friends must have slapped the shit out of him here and there, or wanted to from time to time anyway, to wipe that predictable sneer off of his face and remind him that his sense of danger is and always was make-believe.  Though, to be fair, that's probably exactly what gave him that phony posture, getting slapped around. Most of all I felt sorry for anybody foolish enough to fall in love with somebody like him.  I've only ever felt that way about Dylan here and there. 

Not liking Elvis Costello is difficult though, because I still do like some of his albums.  I found a hidden release of his that I've grown fond of after all these years of trying, The King of America.  I've dabbled here and there with his records - I've always loved his first, My Aim Is True - but he never seemed to quite hit that perfect snide again.  I own about ten Elvis Costello records and I feel more than a little bit cheated.  The ratio is almost exactly opposite with Dylan, for every ten I own there is one that I don't care for, maybe two.  There was one other album of Costello's along the way that I also sort of liked, Almost Blue. It was an album of country covers.  It almost worked.  It had a few stellar moments.  But you can't spend your entire musical career smirking at love and then expect anybody to believe that your heart's truly being broken.   

The King of America works though.  It was produced by T-Bone Burnett.  He didn't use The Attractions to record it, for the most part.  Burnett had a lot of jazz and country session players sit in for the recording, giving the album a sparseness and an unforced feel to many of the tracks.  But most of all he seems to hit a good balance between being honest about his disappointments and fascination with America, never letting his view devolve into disgust alone.  In this plaintive honesty he becomes redeemable, even likable at times.  His view remains vague, almost out of focus, never harping on a specific point, as if that one point unravels the subject.  Neither does he present any of his positions as being the final telling of the story.  In this he retains some charm and doesn't undo himself with the attempted undoing of the other.

That's it for today.  The album's worth getting, I think.  I was given the Rykodisc double, which has outtakes and live cuts, which I tend to like even more than the original album tracks.  

It's difficult to write every day.  It's nearly impossible with 20 hours of wakefulness in each one of those days. It's like trying to get to the meaning of some of Costello's over-produced tracks from his other earlier albums.  It just takes too long to get there and when you do you just don't care.

I need sleep.  I'm going to go back to bed and dream of tapestries from another time.