Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reverb Thursday

As time has passed, I have gone public with certain, erm, prejudices of mine when it comes to music. One fact I coyly omitted when I wrote about this song three and a half years ago: Nick Lowe happens to be playing bass on this track. I'd love it anyway, but still...

Friday, October 27, 2006

"Just About Glad" / Elvis Costello

Oh, Elvis, forgive me for I have sinned. I spent about 15 years of my life as an apostate from the Church of Elvis. Granted, some bad things happened in my life from 1989 through 2005 (trust me, you don't want to know) and listening to your angry snarl just didn't make me feel any better. But hallelujah, I have seen the light, and now I'm back in the fold -- in fact more passionate than ever.

It's been expensive, replacing my vinyl on CD (those Rhino reissues are so freaking fine) and then buying all the CDs I missed during the Wilderness Years. But I knew it was all worthwhile the afternoon I finally listened for the first time to Brutal Youth -- or to be even more specific, the moment when I heard "Just About Glad."

There's no intro: Elvis' raspy yelp launches into the first line before the initial drumbeat falls, and then a simple guitar riff skips in; a few bars further a straightforward bass line begins, and eventually you hear the nimble accents of Steve Nieve's organ. It's stripped down, punchy, upbeat -- the perfect setting for Elvis's snarky lyrics.

I don't recall ever hearing another song with exactly this take on things: he's singing to a girl he once almost slept with, saying how lucky it was things turned out that way. Oh, yes, in hindsight he's glad things never went that far -- well, just about glad, and right there in that little prevarication lies the real story. Because as he blithely lists all the things that didn't happen -- "I'm the greatest lover that you never had" -- an edge of resentment creeps in and it's obvious that this unconsummated affair still tantalizes both of them.

His voice curdles and his syntax gets downright devious as he protests too much: "I'm just about glad that we never did that thing we were going to do..." My favorite line: "Although the passion still flutters and flickers/ It never got into our knickers." Yeah, right. Tell me another.

There's nobody like Elvis for parsing the neurotic twists and turn of modern love. I never feel that these tormented vignettes are autobiographical; he's always playing a character, but a guy too tangled up in vanity and hostility and hurt to give you the whole picture. It's your job to piece together the story and figure out whether he's a bastard or a victim. (Or both.)

Maybe it's perverse, but I find these nasty little short stories comforting; they console me for the fact that my own life doesn't always work out right. (Does anybody's?) At the end of a hard day, playing Elvis Costello loud is sometimes the best medicine. It's like going to confession; a few Hail Marys and Our Fathers and your conscience is clean again. Why did I forget that for all those years?

P.S. Doncha just love this album cover? That has just got to be a childhood picture of Elvis (a.k.a. Declan McManus). Adorable even then!


wwolfe said...

Great song! I agree with you on whether Elvis's songs are autobiographical: "[H]e's always playing a character, but a guy too tangled up in vanity and hostility and hurt to give you the whole picture. It's your job to piece together the story and figure out whether he's a bastard or a victim. (Or both.)" I agree. It's always puzzled me why music, of all the creative endeavors, is so often assumed to be autobiographical. (Of Elvis's recent endeavors, my fave is his duet with Jenny Lewis on her "Carpetbaggers." Shoulda been a big hit.)

Anonymous said...

"Brutal Youth" has some of my very favorite Elvis songs including "Clown Strike" and "My Science Fiction Twin"...both highly infectious ear candy...and all in all, some of Declan's most inspired writing. Unlike you, Holly, I stuck with him through thick and thin, but I'm glad that you're back in his fold.

"Pony St" – 3:25
"Kinder Murder" – 3:25
"13 Steps Lead Down" – 3:16
"This Is Hell" – 4:27
"Clown Strike" – 4:05
"You Tripped at Every Step" – 4:12
"Still Too Soon to Know" – 2:19
"20% Amnesia" – 3:26
"Sulky Girl" – 5:07
"London's Brilliant Parade" (Elvis Costello) – 4:23
"My Science Fiction Twin" – 4:10
"Rocking Horse Road" – 4:03
"Just About Glad" – 3:14
"All the Rage" (Costello) – 3:52
"Favourite Hour" – 3:31

Alex said...

After all the lush experiments of the late 80s (McCartney, a string quartet, etc.), it was a shot in the arm to hear Elvis reunited with the Attractions. And even if Bruce Thomas isn't on all the tracks, Nick Lowe is a fine substitute.

I loved this album when it came out and still love the nostalgia of his snarl and venom. And you got it exactly right -- it boils down to Bastard or Victim (which, come to think of it, would make a cool title for Elvis's autobiography).

Holly A Hughes said...

Yes, I think getting back with the Attractions really energized Elvis on this album -- although perhaps it was just that Elvis was finally ready to dive for pearls, and he didn't want to do that without his guys. "London's Brilliant Parade" is another one my favorites from this album; also "This Is Hell."

I also think that once major stardom was finally out of the question for Elvis, he was set free to write incisive, savage songs again. MTV was dead, Britpop had taken over the airwaves, and Elvis was left with just his cult audience. (That would be you, Dan). So why not just let your inner muse tear loose?

NickS said...

You know, I've been (mostly) an apostate from the church of Elvis for the last five or six years and I haven't been able to figure out why.

I think you're correct to diagnose that as a sign that his style doesn't serve an emotional need. I still recognize his music as smart, but not appealing.


Holly A Hughes said...

Or perhaps not the emotional need of your life at the time...