This year has seen Elvis have a critical rehabilitation, career revival and chart success. Trouble is, it’s the wrong Elvis.
Whilst weasel-eyed record company courtiers have once again propped the King’s corpse back up on it’s throne for the peasant’s to fawn before, has anyone noticed the return of the minstrel outlaw? The one with the crooked grin, the sneering songs of righteousness and the Ronnie Corbett glasses? No? Oh.
I can’t say I’ve really bothered that much with Elvis Costello, I never could get past the voice. That voice, that insistent, angry, nasal drilling, It was tolerable enough on the singles but it put me right off buying an album. And Costello’s ‘Shipbuilding’ is one of my very favourite songs, but only the Robert Wyatt version. So you see the problem here?
Well, wouldn’t you know? That self same voice is the best thing about his best single in ages. Spitting, sputtering, hollering closely into the mic, into your ear, it’s a great example of controlled intensity and vitriol. The rough-edged and rowdy music it accompanies is of the quiet-loud-quiet variety so beloved of The Pixies: one minute chugging guitar and a sparten, almost hip-hop-style rhythm, then bursting into a blast of white-hot fury then a sudden drop away, back to it’s patient, but loaded beat. Hey, it works, y’know?
45 as in rpm, 45 as in age, .45 as in revolver.
But mainly as in rpm, this song’s about how the EVIL that is music ensnares us to a lifetime of addiction, hypnotising us with it’s spinning discs, distracting us whilst its dread tendril gently coils itself around our central core, and then it’s got us. Verily, slaves to the rhythm. How it enthrals us from an early age: “Nine year old puts his money down - 45 / Every scratch, every click, every heartbeat / Every breath that I held for you - 45”. Yea, once you’ve got your hands on your first single, that’s it: music will haunt your every step till the grave. It will jerk you around like a mindless puppet, and you will love it; it will play while you fuck, and you will love it; it will play while you weep, and you will love it; it will steal ALL of your money, and you will love it. It will never stop and you will never stop wanting it, and, lowly, pathetic wretch that you are, you will be grateful, until, eventually - at your request - it will play while you burn in your coffin. 45.
“Bass and treble heal every hurt
There's a rebel in a nylon shirt
But the words are a mystery I've heard
Till you turn it down to thirty-three and a third
'Cause it helps with the elocution
Corporations turn revolutions - 45 “
The King is dead. A little more conversation, a little less action, please.
8David Merryweather's Score