Review Summary: Costello presents exactly what a pop album should be; instantly accessible, clever and with moments that reverberate for days on end.5 of 5 thought this review was well written
A debut album is a once in a career opportunity. Okay so admittedly that’s fairly obvious, but what I mean is an artist never has another chance of reclaiming the mindset in which their first album was written. Most good debuts are raw, emotional and unaffected pieces of work, with no room for the complacency or arrogance which comes with celebrity or success. Artists put their heart and soul into these albums and the result is often an accurate depiction of their youth or the frame of mind in which it was approached. Whilst as an artist matures he might look back at his work and smile at how rough and incomplete it sounds, he shouldn't regret it, for the debut album is a snapshot of time and a staple of promise or room for improvement.
Elvis Costello's debut does all these things but with one major difference. Whilst My Aim is True
certainly sounds raw, emotional and unaffected, it never sounds uncompleted or rough round the edges. For a 23 year old man, Costello produced a body of work which shows the experience and maturity of somebody who’d been in the business for a lifetime. He writes bitter tales of love and short songs with all the spirit of a punk rocker; however he displays a rare wit and intelligence uncommon in a young man. Not only does Costello write with an amazing astuteness, but also with a competence in an eclectic range of styles. This album sees him stray into Punk, Reggae, traditional Rock and Roll, country and even soul, yet is constantly glued together with a craft for pop music which makes the album so easy to listen to. Whilst the album contains all the grit and toughness of a debut, it’s also impeccably refined and perfectly rounded.
The album begins abruptly with opener "Welcome to the Working Week"; the tracks sharp chord progressions are complimented with classic pop backing vocals, as Costello’s opening line summarises his talent for lyricism;
“Now that your picture's in the paper being rhythmically admired”
Always the master of subtlety he somehow manages to euphemise masturbation with a certain element of style, before proceeding to write a near-perfect rock and roll song in under a minute and a half. With not a single track over 4 minutes this concise writing style is dominant throughout, but despite being short and snappy the songs never feel brief, only succinct and to the point.
Whilst Costello's sardonic tone seems to pervade My Aim is True
, highlight track "Alison" is quite different as it reveals a more melodic and soulful side of the album. The sort of track which alone can justify the purchase of an entire CD, Costello's passion shines through as he cries "Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking" before hinting at murder with a frightening sincerity. Whilst the focus of the track is for the most part the mental tussle expressed through the lyrics, the track is also laced with delightful lead guitar noodles which add to the sense of calm which bleeds through the instrumentation.
Whilst "Alison" is clearly the albums centrepiece it does little to summarise the vibe of the CD as a whole; The albums overall feel is perhaps epitomised by it's rock and roll tracks. "Miracle Man", "Pay it Back" and "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" are all wrapped in pop hooks which could make even Johnny Borell question his arrogance, as the oh so memorable chorus' seem to resonate for days on end. However, whilst these tracks are catchy they are by no means disposable, as the infectious backing tracks are sugar-coated with lines like "I said I'm so happy I could die/ She said 'drop dead' and left with another guy". It's amazing how a line so miserable and self-deprecating, could belong to perhaps the most upbeat sounding and danceable track on the album, only serving to add humour and poignancy to the songs message.
My Aim is True
, then, is amongst the finest and most polished debuts ever put to record. Costello delivers a masterclass in songwriting, and shows that it is indeed songs which make an album and not any fancy tricks in the studio. Whilst the production job serves its purpose at presenting the records rough edges, each track has its own identity which is treated with exactly the same time and care. Given the broad range of styles it refers to, this album must have a track for everyone, and in fact very few which have any outwardly dislikeable quality. Lyrically stunning and never forced, this truly is a pop gem which should be thrust upon all youngsters as a lesson in songwriting.....Classic.