Thursday, August 9, 2007

No. 98: This Year's Model

Band: Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Album: This Year's Model
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Elvis Costello's new wave nerdish punk rock is honed best on "This Year's Model." His quasi-soulful stuffed-nose vocals fall over organ and guitar based grooves. His Buddy Holly looks and classic rock pseudonym brought a new New Wave over to the States.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: A lot of serious Costello fans find "This Year's Model" to be overrated and not his best. My own feeling is that Costello is wholly overrated. Still, he probably deserves a record in the top 100 (there are far less deserving records in there) and 98 isn't a bad choice.
Best song: "Radio Radio" is a great indictment of the recording industry and "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" is probably the best pre-90s angular rock record.
Worst song: "Lipstick Vogue" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Maybe a low level awesome?

Not that it matters (considering how long it took to get Black Sabbath in), but Elvis Costello and the Attractions are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don't know why this is such a surprise to me. They went in the same year as The Police, The Clash and AC/DC.


Elvis Costello is probably known as much for his style as his music. The glasses, the jackets. In the same way the Sex Pistols defined the way punk looked for the late '70s, Costello defined the way New Wave looked in the early '80s.

But, what of the music? Costello's nasal crooning takes as much from Burt Bacharach (who he later collaborated with) as it does from the other New Wave artists of the time. "This Year's Model" takes a lot from the punk spirit and musical trends, as well. "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," "The Beat" and "Night Rally" all work the punk style while keeping Costello's signature pub rock ethos.

Unlike the more aggressive "My Aim Is True," Costello and the Attractions are more measured on "This Year's Model." In combining the fury of "My Aim is True" and the smartness of his later singles, Costello put together a better version of pub rock. No longer a reaction to progressive radio of the 70s, singles like "Radio Radio" showed that punkish New Wave could be smart, interesting and fun to listen to.


Again, I've never really gotten Costello, so I send you to two reviews of "This Year's Model." The first is from a Costello fan site, arguing that it's not his best work. The second is from Pitchfork (shut up), which gives it a perfect 10. From that Pitchfork review:

Perfectly balancing the raw energy of My Aim Is True with the more elegant pop songwriting that would come to characterize much of his later work, This Year's Model is not only Costello's best work, but one of the most distinctively brilliant albums ever to be released. For fans of rock music bursting with wit and character, it really just doesn't get any better than this.

Fitting for a Costello fan, but for me... Not so much. I didn't even know he was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


fft said...

Agree 100% with your summary. Low-level awesome.

Joe said...

I'm also in the I *should* like Elvis Costello boat, but I tend to think of him in the same way as someone like George Michael. Run of the mill 80s pop pretending to come out of punk. I borrowed this album from a friend, tried repeatedly to listen to it, and it just rolled off me. Everything from the stupid 50s kitsch to the songs was bland and boring.