September 10, 1984 12:00 PM

Elvis Costello and the Attractions

Well, nobody’s perfect. Elvis has come very close on several occasions, including Imperial Bedroom in 1982 and Punch the Clock last year. But like 1981’s Trust, his latest is uneven. The weaker parts of Trust seemed raucous and hasty, but here Elvis’ evolution toward prerock styles of songwriting gets mired in a problem that’s harder to define. A song such as Love Field possesses a rinky-dink, box-step quaintness, a homey sweetness of melody that leads one to wonder whether Elvis is being misguidedly sentimental or just ironic. The Great Unknown, with its calliope-like organ and galumphing, circusy gait, raises the same question. So do a couple of other cuts. If Costello is being ironic, he has shot himself in the foot. How do you write a composition about boredom without being boring? Only Proust knew the answer to that one. Still, Elvis needn’t hang his head. An absolutely no-smirk sincerity charges the Attractions’ soulful, tensile arrangement of Farnell Jenkins’ 1973 ballad I Wanna Be Loved. Inch by Inch is freighted with an eerie suspense fed by tiptoeing organ notes in the treble and a reyerberating bass. Room With No Number is a smartly outlandish strut fired by Pete Thomas’ whacking snare drum. The slashing attack of The Deportees Club harks back to Elvis’ vintage This Year’s Model and Armed Forces period. It’s reassuring that for all the aesthetic distance he’s traveled, Costello can still scorch the earth when he rocks. (Columbia)

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