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April 11th, 2012 CASEY JARMAN | Music Stories
 

Costellology

Walking in the complicated shadows of Elvis Costello’s storied past.

music.box.costellology_3823ILLUSTRATION: Adam Krueger
From angry young man to Burt Bacharach collaborator to talk-show host, Elvis Costello rarely settles down long enough to take in the scenery. These days, though, the 57-year-old songwriter seems to be feeling a little sentimental. He’s relaunched his long-forgotten Spectacular Spinning Songbook tour—which centers on a giant public set list that looks like something from The Price Is Right and requires audience participation to spin—and slimmed down to his 1970s fighting weight. On the eve of his Portland visit, we thought we’d take the opportunity to stroll down memory lane with Costello.

A MAN OF MANY MOODS

Angry: “When England was the whore of the world/ Margaret was her madam/ And the future was as bright and as clear/ As the black tarmacadam” (“Tramp the Dirt Down,” Spike)

Depressed: “Was it a millionaire who said ‘imagine no possessions’?/ A poor little schoolboy who said ‘we don’t need no lessons’?/ The rabid rebel dogs ransack the shampoo shop/ The pop princess is downtown shooting up” (“The Other Side of Summer,” Mighty Like a Rose)

Funny: “Though he wasn’t tall or handsome, she laughed when he told her/ ‘I’m the Sheriff of Nottingham and this is Little John’” (“American Without Tears,” King of America)

Dreamy: “I might make it California’s fault/ Be locked in Geneva’s deepest vault/ Just like the canals of Mars and the Great Barrier Reef/ I come to you beyond belief” (“Beyond Belief,” Imperial Bedroom)

Showoffish: “All you toy soldiers and scaremongers/ Are you living in this world, sometimes I wonder/ In between saying you’ve seen too much/ And saying you’ve seen it all before” (“Human Hands,” Imperial Bedroom)


GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS

Allison: A now-married ex whom the narrator may or may not want to have killed.

Veronica: A lovely, but senile, old lady.

This Year’s Girl: A very popular lady, perhaps a pop star, who seems bored with her station in life.

Party Girl: A young socialite whom the narrator adores but does not wish to settle down with.

Sulky Girl: A possible vampire and likely goth who ran away from home at a young age.

Spooky Girlfriend: The narrator’s slutty, obedient dream girl. Almost certainly goth.

Big Sister: “She is the blue chip that belongs to the big fish.” Duh.


THE BEST OF THE BEST

Trust (1981)

Amazing pop song after amazing pop song. The crown jewel in a stretch of near-flawless late-’70s, early-’80s records. “New Lace Sleeves” just kills.

Blood and Chocolate (1986)

Perhaps the heaviest Elvis Costello record, which finds Costello playing with dark poetry and stringing together some rambling Dylanesque epics.

National Ransom (2010)

After a few ho-hum outings, Costello embraces his inner nerdy American record collector by playing an inspired set of smart, semi-jazzy story songs.


THE BEST OF THE WORST

Almost Blue (1981)

The (fantastic) title track, sadly, isn’t actually on this bland, country-covers album. “Good Year for the Roses” may be the only classic cut here, but two Gram Parsons tunes help its case a bit.

Goodbye Cruel World (1984)

Costello has rightly called this his worst album: It is besieged by plastic ’80s production and cheesy horns. That said, Daryl Hall duet “The Only Flame in Town” has plenty of kitsch value, and the gorgeous “Love Field” is brilliantly retro-futuristic.

Mighty Like a Rose (1991)

Though it’s one of the worst-reviewed Costello outings, I think of it as a fantastic EP with a bunch of shitty bonus tracks. “How to Be Dumb” and “All Grown Up” are classic, theatrical Costello. 


SEE IT: Elvis Costello and the Imposters play the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway Ave., on Friday, April 13. 8 pm. $46.50-$86.50. All ages.

 
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