Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Clip: Everything's coming up roses

Expand Messages
  • andyb240658
    Everything s coming up roses The angry rocker of old is back on Elvis Costello s new album - but don t expect instant gratification. Songs, like flowers, need
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 23, 2002
    • 0 Attachment
      Everything's coming up roses

      The angry rocker of old is back on Elvis Costello's
      new album - but don't expect instant gratification.
      Songs, like flowers, need time to bloom, he tells Mark Edwards

      It's a slightly worrying trend. Rock musicians are getting
      up earlier. Traditionally, of course, rock stars have kept
      the hours of vampires. Rising late, stumbling into the
      studio as the rest of us finish work, and laying down
      their best tracks while the rest of us watch soaps on TV.
      Things, apparently, are changing. Earlier this year, I
      interviewed Noel Gallagher. Could I, his PR wondered,
      do the interview at 10? I was just explaining that it was a
      bit later than I'd prefer when she cut me short. Ten in
      the morning. Noel Gallagher does interviews at 10 in
      the morning? Yes, she said. He likes to get on with

      And now this. Elvis Costello wants to do the interview
      over breakfast. Breakfast! As those nice young men in
      the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club sang recently:
      "Whatever happened to my rock'n'roll?" So, I'm gearing
      myself up for the drive to Costello's Richmond hotel for our 8.30am
      meeting when the man himself rings my mobile. Can I make it for eight
      o'clock? Of course.

      When I turn up, Costello doesn't even want to eat
      breakfast. He had his earlier. "I've been up since 5.30,"
      he says. (And he played a gig the night before.) Like I
      said, it's a worrying trend. But then Costello loves
      defying expectations, whether in his music - making
      albums with the mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter or
      Burt Bacharach - or in person. The first rule of famous
      people is that they're all smaller in person than you
      think they are. Costello is bigger. This, and the sense of
      certainty in his every statement, would make him an
      intimidating companion, if it wasn't for the wit that
      ripples through his conversation as readily as it does
      through his songs. Costello's conversation is as finely
      crafted as his lyrics, whether discussing the parlous
      state of the record industry ("They've got it coming. It's
      which dies first: the planet or the record industry?") or
      which Rolling Stones tracks he prefers ("I always liked
      their fey pop tunes - Jagger's 'I've got off with a
      middle-class bird' songs").

      We're here (only a few hundred yards from Jagger's
      Richmond mansion, coincidentally) to discuss the new
      "tour edition" of Costello's latest album, When I Was
      Cruel. In an age when music is pigeonholed and
      formatted more than ever before, Costello has worked
      wonders in encouraging a large chunk of his audience
      to follow him into a variety of different musical areas -
      from country to classical to crooning - but for those
      who waited patiently for the man to get back to bashing
      out loud, angry rock songs on his guitar, When I Was
      Cruel is the real deal. There are even two Attractions -
      Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas - in the backing band.
      From this purist point of view, When I was Cruel is the
      latest in a line of brilliant rock albums that begins with
      his first three records, My Aim Is True, This Year's Model
      and Armed Forces - and also takes in Blood and
      Chocolate and Brutal Youth. The new edition of the
      album contains a bonus CD that features live versions
      of songs from When I Was Cruel (and some older
      favourites), taken from the current tour.

      While most of Costello's contemporaries are preaching
      to the converted, Costello continues to attract a new
      audience. When I Was Cruel reached No 1 in the US
      college radio charts. As a result, his live audience
      contains a significant proportion of kids. "It's amazing
      what a difference that makes," says Costello. "It's a
      terrific injection of energy - and they don't feel they own
      you, so they're a bit more open-minded. You get this
      curious thing where the whole family comes along, and
      you get the funny feeling the parents are saying: 'Well,
      you must see this before you can't see it any more.' Not
      that I'm thinking of going anywhere ..."

      The rage that fuelled his classic early albums is
      referred to in the title track of the new record, which
      describes the dreadful people at some horrendous
      social function. But Costello refrains from sticking the
      lyrical knife all the way in. "It was so much easier," he
      sings, "when I was cruel."

      "You're more inclined to be tolerant as you get older," he
      explains. "You see the human frailties. And you have to
      keep reminding yourself that, yes, they are as wretched
      as your judgmental, younger self thought they were.
      When you're young, you can demonise people easily. I
      look at some of the brutality of the language in some of
      the early songs - probably overdoing it just to make a
      point, and to make a name for myself."

      Costello's back catalogue is currently being reissued,
      and he has written some of the liner notes himself.
      Originally, journalists were commissioned to supply
      them, but Costello found them too fawning. Hardly
      surprising, you might think, when the latest batch
      includes This Year's Model and Armed Forces. "No,"
      says Costello. "I couldn't let them publish them. There
      was no suggestion of fallibility in them. Records are
      bound to be flawed. We live in an everything's fabulous,
      all the time, 24 hours of the day world, which is why I
      wrote that song Episode of Blonde," he continues,
      referring to another track on When I Was Cruel.

      "Everything's got to be as blonde as it can be, whether
      you want it to be or not. Blonde is a synonym for any
      number of qualities that we're told are essential. But it's
      not a moral crusade. There's a sense of humour in
      these songs. There's a sense of humour in some of the
      early songs, too, but the fury of the sound meant people
      didn't always notice it." Costello opens his mouth and
      points to the gap between his front teeth. "It's this. It's
      this. It always sounds like I'm spitting. People jump out
      of their skins when I speak. They think I'm angry all the
      time, but I'm just saying something. This per-cussive
      way of speaking makes everything sound angry."

      There's still plenty of anger on the new album, still
      plenty of fury in the sound. Costello attributes the
      evident passion to two factors. First, he'd been playing
      so many different types of music recently that he was
      genuinely enthused to strap an electric guitar back on.
      And second, he approached the writing for the songs in
      an entirely new way: he wrote the songs using cheap
      drum machines, not a guitar. "These songs were
      written very much rhythm first, then words, then melody
      and harmony. A lot of these songs don't have any
      harmony on them to speak of, because I was kind of up
      to here with harmony from working with Burt

      His plans changed when Robert Wyatt - who was
      curating Meltdown - asked Costello to play, and, soon
      afterwards, Bob Dylan asked him to play a support slot.
      With two reasons to put a band together, Costello
      thought he might as well bring the musicians back to
      the studio to work on his new songs. The result is an
      album that sounds, on the surface, reminiscent of
      Costello's early work, but has underneath a layer of
      surprising rhythms and textures that probably owe as
      much to hip-hop as they do to rock. "The last thing you
      want to do is to self-consciously try to make a hip
      record," he says. "But I like what I hear in hip-hop and
      R&B more than what I hear in rock. I cannot abide the
      straight, square rock beat. Give me anything that's off
      kilter - Turkish music, reggae, New Orleans."

      The fact that Costello's musical tastes are off kilter is
      clearly proven by his discography. But Costello has no
      time at all for those who consider albums made with
      the Brodsky Quartet or Burt Bacharach to be annoying
      sidetracks from what he should really be doing. "I can
      see the value - and I don't care if anyone else doesn't
      like it. Know why I'm doing it? Because I f***ing can.
      Somebody asked me to and I enjoy it. I'm fed up with
      apologising for it."

      It's news to me that Costello has ever apologised for
      his musical adventurousness. "No, I haven't. But I'm fed
      up of people expecting me to. People think music has to
      be instant payoff - has to tell you everything about itself
      in three minutes. But it doesn't work like that. It can be
      like waiting for a flower to bloom. The song that's a hit
      from an album isn't the best song - it's just the one
      that's the most maddening."

      Based on this definition - that maddening means
      catchy - When I Was Cruel offers a pretty good mix of
      songs: some of them blooming flowers, others
      blooming maddening.
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.