Considerably more than Less Than Zero

Extended post for BBC Radio 6 Music’s Facebook page, celebrating 40 years since the release of Elvis Costello’s debut album…


Elvis Costello
My Aim Is True

If ever a scene has been damned by its name, then late 70s Pub Rock is it. Evocative of boring, Sunday afternoon covers bands, supposedly not rebellious enough to be considered part of the contemporaneous punk rock scene, there’s a stodgy connotation to Pub Rock that’s unfair. For example, its chief proponents Dr Feelgood were one of Britain’s most exciting live acts, it’s the scene that yielded Ian Dury And The Blockheads and it’s how Declan McManus, the bespectacled London-Liverpool songwriter, got his break.

However, having rechristened himself after the most famous singer on the planet, whatever pub rock’s merits it was never going to big enough for Elvis Costello, and this his debut album is the sound of him already leaving it behind.

Utilising many of pub rock’s best players the record has one foot in the boozer, but with energy, imagination and, of course, wordplay My Aim Is True surveys wider horizons.

The likes of No Dancing, Red Shoes and the biblically inspired Blame It On Cain have an even tempo, but there’s a catchy tunefulness that raises them above the bar hubbub, while Waiting For The World provides a strung out storyboard of how the planet will most likely collapse in mundane, trivial fashion.

The cold yet captivating Less Than Zero, offers a big hint of where Costello was heading as an artist (its nihilistic, yet inquisitive overtones would also supply the title of Bret Easton Ellis’ first novel), the revenge, bitterness and recrimination of Alison in fact proved so moving that the bitter love song remains one of Costello’s finest compositions, while initially there wasn’t room for the ska-tinged, multi-layered brilliant pop of Watching The Detectives (although it was added to later editions of the album).

Pub Rock was never as bad as its name or punks let on and it provided an important musical backdrop for Costello’s early years, but as My Aim Is True demonstrated Elvis had left the building and was heading for an all together different establishment.

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