Monday, June 26, 2006

Vinyl Tap: Elvis Costello - This Year's Model

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #6:

Giving you the 33 and a 3rd degree with spittle and spite on every spin and revenge and guilt in every groove, Elvis Costello's aim is true. But with This Year’s Model, his breathtakingly bristling and audacious quantum leap of a second album, he aims to displease and pass along a little free-floating anxiety. Well, more than just a little.

For those pump-it-uppity handwringers who bemoan the wide-ranging ambitiousness of Elvis the side-show Attraction, and who curse the Fates that he has not somehow evolved into some pigeon-holed Johnny-one-note angry middle-aged man, and who forever rue the day that this prodigious prodigal son strayed from the path of righteousness -- about the time that he Got Happy, I’m guessing -- rejoice as we wallow in what once was, in your mind.

Never mind that Costello has continued his biting and bitter ways -- in songs like hard-crusted breadcrumbs strewn for the easily misguided -- on albums such as Blood and Chocolate, Spike, Mighty Like A Rose, Brutal Youth and When I Was Cruel. If he’s ever been mellow (to answer the musical questions: “Have you never tried to find a comfort from inside you? / Have you never been happy just to hear your song?” ) it was on the relatively laid-back, taking-it-easiest, keep-on-truckin’-ist King of America, but he still expressed a healthy appreciation for being "so contrary / Like a chainsaw running through a dictionary.”

Good way to harsh your mellow. In any case, you could make a convincing case that This Year’s Model, all pent-up scorn and damning sneer, just by itself contains three decades worth of mismanaged anger-can-be powerful rage rolled into one glorious -- verging on vainglorious -- pissed-off righteousness. At first listen, the 1978 release may sound like one big misogynistic tirade -- and it is to an extent -- but there’s a considerable number of misanthropic and self-loathing strains coursing throughout, facets he will expand upon in Armed Forces, wherein he interfuses more societal and political rants that justify the LP’s original title, “Emotional Fascism."

And, in further attesting to the fact that the man's an equal opportunity hater of the world and everybody in it, Costello would go on to pen his most scathingly vitriolic song in 1991’s “How To Be Dumb” in which his raised hackles exacts the most contemptuous musical retribution of his career not on a love disinterest, but on another man -- a traitorous where-are-they-now tell-all Attraction with a “new occupation” in which “Every fleeting thought is a pearl / And beautiful people stampede to the doorway of the funniest fucker in the world." That’s Mr. MacManus, if you’re nasty.

But I digress, though Costello doesn't. “I don't wanna be a lover, I just wanna be your victim,” he says in “The Beat,” and there’s many insecurities, mixed emotions, crossed signals and interpersonal bluffing and feinting going on in this album to ensure that Model's thematic concern remains largely focused on the hell of other people, relationships that pass in the night or true love gone bad. There’s an awful lot of done-wrong Costello, then, bloodied but unbowed, neither deviating nor dissuaded, who gets right to the matter at hand on the first track of the album, staying the main course where revenge is still a dish best served cold: “I don't wanna kiss you. I don't wanna touch / I don't wanna see you 'cause I don't miss you that much.” “No Action,” indeed, but perhaps he protests too much.

Just in case such a romantic magic of the moment dissipates over the course of the first side -- which includes “This Year’s Girl's” berating of a man with “fancy manners” and “English grammar” because “you don't really give a damn about this year's girl -- Costello is on the ball at the start of side two (that would be “Hand In Hand” for those of you following along on CD) with a little bit of a reminder that “you can’t show me any kind of hell that I don’t know already,” and moreover: “don't ask me to apologise, I won't ask you to forgive me / If I'm gonna go down, you're gonna come with me.”

Not exactly a passport to paradise. But in Costello‘s conception of heaven, “everyone in paradise carries a gun,” as conveyed in a song in which he also declares “I don't like those other guys looking at your curves / I don't like you walking 'round with physical jerks” (“Living In Paradise”). But Model is more than an opportunity to “Listen to the propaganda, listen to the latest slander” ("Pump It Up”); or a chance to bite the hand that feeds while the “Radio, Radio” is “in the hands of such a lot of fools tryin' to anaesthetise the way that you feel”; or an occasion to hurl a side-swipe censure that “You're easily led, but you're much too scared to follow” (“You Belong To Me”).

There’s more deep-seated troubles being revealed, gadfly-on-the-wall observations, and close-to-the-bone accusations bandied about that belie Costello’s claim that “Lip Service is all you’ll ever get from me” (“Lip Service”). The sinister and unsubtle tones of the “Night Rally” tolls a bell about “deeds done in the darkest hours,” and “the sort of catchy little melody to get you singing in the showers.” In the most caustic and telling song on Model, encompassing the nothingness of being and the numbing of feeling, Costello, in “Lipstick Vogue,” extends the personal to the fatalistic nothing-matters-and-what-if-it-did apathetic black hole, setting up for the fall an existential domino effect of sorts:

    Don't say you love me when it's just a rumour
    Don't say a word if there is any doubt.
    Sometimes I think that love is just a tumour;
    you've got to cut it out.

    You say you're sorry for the things that you've done.
    You say you're sorry but you know you don't mean it.
    I wouldn't worry, I had so much fun.
    Sometimes I almost feel just like a human being…

    …Get to the slot machine almost dead on arrival
    Just hit me one more time with that live wire
    Maybe they told you you were only a girl in a million
    You say I've got not feelings;
    this is a good way to kill them.


Now there’s your downward spiral, big time: Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has burned down the building!


Note: This review comprises the American and British versions of This Year's Model. I have both. Never could make up my mind.

1 Comments:

At 12:19 AM, Blogger StillWater said...

Wow! Semi permanent make up has alot of uses! But did you know that a woman consumes over 4 to 9 lbs of lipstick in her lifetime! Here is the link that I found that shows all of the research:

http://www.lipink.com/lipstick_wax_s/6510.htm&Click=33586

 

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