Those who are familiar with my views will recognize the repeated refrain that genius makes connections between unrelated things, bringing them into a peculiar and remarkable union. Elvis Costello scores here on his name alone, having taken on the first name of the King of Rock and Roll and the surname of a pudgy prince of slapstick comedy (and these choices speak volumes about the man and his attitude). Where he really proves himself, though, is in the breadth and depth of his musical output.
The soft-spoken Englishman, formerly a computer programmer by name of Declan McManus, channeled his poet’s soul through the angry passion of the punk movement, shaping the result with the keen melodic sense of a master tunesmith. Joining ranks with the likes of Nick Lowe and Joe Jackson, Costello helped establish a fresh genre which became generally known as Power Pop. He provided this genre a number of fresh anthems and ballads, like Alison, Accidents Will Happen, Watching the Detectives, and Radio, Radio, all of which became classic items on any menu of 1980’s alternative rock.
Not satisfied to just languish there, Costello began to edge laterally into other genres… country, classical, jazz… bringing his unique sensibilities with him in each phase of his exploration. With marvelous judgement, he associated himself with top musicians in each area: Paul McCartney, T-Bone Burnett, the Brodsky Quartet, Bill Frisell, Burt Bacharach. With each new collaboration, he became more mature, more developed, more facile at his craft.
This ability to translate the subtleties and complexities of the human heart into popular song has propelled him to the top of his field, and the amazing diversity of his music has led the All-Music Guide to declare him “one of the
most innovative, influential, and best songwriters since Bob Dylan.” There are some things you can’t argue with. Elvis Costello’s aim, having always been truth, remains true.