Elvis Costello – “My Aim Is True” (1977)

November 8, 2009 at 5:07 pm (Elvis Costello, Music, Reviews & Articles)

Chas de Whalley review of EC’s debut album, from Sounds magazine circa 1977… 


Elvis Costello is a cagey sort of fellow. You can talk to him for hours and still not discover quite what makes him tick.

The same thing is true about his songs. There are eleven of them here on My Aim Is True and although I’ve listened to them at least seven times now, I still don’t feel I’ve worked out what’s going on. I normally expect to get to grips with even difficult albums after about three spins, but every time I put My Aim Is True onto the turntable I hear something else that wasn’t there before. Like a flower Elvis’ debut album is opening up into something of metallic beauty.

With Nick Lowe at the mixing desk, Elvis sings a set of semi-autobiographical riddles and rhymes that refuse to be tied down. Behind his harsh whining voice, there crashes a bright beat group guitar and a hissing cymbal. His tunes and arrangements plunder the jukeboxes of Pirate radio youth. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that he bears some resemblance to the likes of Graham Parker and Bruce Springsteen.

He’s not without pretensions though. Just look at the front cover of My Aim Is True and that Duane Eddie pose of a ’50s guitar here!

But look at the back and you’ll find another image completely … our boy as a mutant midget with a guitar bigger than his body looking pensive and distraught. So which is the real Elvis Costello, the super-hero or the man crippled inside?

As a lyric writer Costello is frequently a little on the verbose side. Imaginative, almost literary at times, he sings of intensely personal problems and views them in fine focus under a hard white light. Mostly he sings about women, but throughout the album Elvis strives to find an emotional identity as an individual and not a mere social stereotype.

In ‘Miracle Man’, for instance, he compares himself with the lover who ‘can do it better than I can’ and pleads humanity in his own defence. The Merseybeat ‘No Dancing’ sits right in at the break-up of a fierce love affair, with Elvis viewing himself in a neurotic third person as if on a movie screen. The idea of life as a cinema crops up again, explicitly this time, in the eerie ‘I’m Not Angry’ with it’s edgy Blue Oyster Cult riff and a strangely sumptuous production. Like the slow, sad ballad ‘Alison’ (Elvis’ current single and surely destined for the charts) ‘I’m Not Angry’ is the tale of a man cruelly confronted with his lover’s infidelity.

But while every separate song scenario is highly charged with emotion Elvis Costello is not above a laugh occasionally. A self-deprecatory sarcasm colours ‘Welcome to the Working Week’ while the doomy and Dylany ‘Waiting for the End of the World’ is a strip cartoon peopled with wierd, surrealist characters and scripted with a fatalistic black humour.

If you want to hear Elvis Costello at his wittiest though, you should seek out ‘Mystery Dance’ on side two. A spoof ’50s rocker, with Elvis camping up his namesake, ‘Mystery Dance’ examines the tender and traumatic problem of a teenager’s first screw. The sheer ludicrousness of the situation is brilliantly exaggerated but the pathos is never sacrificed for the obvious cheap laugh.

Elvis Costello is a songwriter of rare sensitivity and talent. He is backed by a fine band too. The individual musicians go uncredited unfortunately. Guitar freaks should check ’em out too for whoever plays the stylish Amos Garrett-influenced fills on ‘Alison’ and the Steely Dan lead lines on ‘Blame It on Cain’ and ‘Sneaky Feelings’ is obviously star quality.

But he’s only the icing on the cake. Elvis Costello is the King. Or at least that’s what you’ll find scratched onto the middle of My Aim Is True. I think it’s true.

Chas de Whalley

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