Monday, May 30, 2005

a brief ode to Declan McManus

Even with all the hundreds upon hundreds of CD's I own, I find my listening tastes rather limited. A few weeks ago, all I was listening to was Pinback. Before that, it was *glup* Coldplay. My latest binge has been the music of Elvis Costello. Some of it is music I've owned for a while (Imperial Bedroom and Armed Forces) and some of it has been newly acquired (Blood & Chocolate and Almost Blue).

After a recent spin of the classic This Year's Model, the sound of that album really struck me. Produced by Nick Lowe in 1978, the album has a clear, aggressive, and timeless production. It's aged rather well, no doubt due in part to the phenomenal playing of Costello's back-up band, The Attractions. Pete Thomas' drumming in particular is driving, precise, and could happily find itself shinning in any decade.

It's bothered me for a while now that Elvis Costello doesn't seem to get the respect and attention he deserves. Outside of music snob haunts and music critic circles, he is known for a handful of classics, and then dismissed. One of his best-known songs, "Alison", didn't even chart upon its release. With every interview I read, from artist to artist, rarely do I count Mr. Costello being mentioned as an influence.

Which is a shame really. From the opening chords of My Aim Is True to the closing piano of Imperial Bedroom, Elvis Costello had a phenomenal run of quantity and quality as a songwriter. And in between his more fallow periods of inspiration, he still found the right combination of chords to release such slump busters as Blood & Chocolate and When I Was Cruel. Maybe it didn't help that his musical style shifted from album to album. The general public usually likes its artists predictable and familiar (*glup* ... Coldplay). His drunken, slanderous remarks in '78 about Ray Charles didn't help is popularity either.

But those who do know and love his music carry a wonderful secret with them. Rarely does one get to explore and examine such a large and rich back catalog of music. And please, a hearty round of applause to the folks at Rhino records. The reissues of Costello's CD's has been nothing short of spectacular. It's truly an example of music being marketed to music lovers. Each reissue contains not only a stunning re-master of the original album, but a bonus disc filled with live tracks, unreleased songs, and demos from the corresponding period. All for the price of a regular single disc! How often have you purchased the re-mastered edition of an album you already own, only to get a few bonus tracks, some extra photos in the liner notes, or nothing extra at all?

In closing, a wonderful quote by the man himself brought to mind my rant against Rolling Stone Magazine in a distant blog. Elvis isn't always right, by any stretch of the imagination. But this former computer programmer is right on target when it comes to music ... and that most hated rag...

"(Rolling Stone) has, over the years, undergone a remarkable transformation from an organ of the supposed counterculture to a shallow pop-culture shop window for starlets and acrobats while funding their efforts with generous amounts of Big Tobacco advertising revenue and offers of penis enlargement to easily deluded teenage boys."


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