Elvis Costello - Rock and Roll Music

Elvis Costello Elvis Costello
Rock and Roll Music

1 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

The bespeckled punk nerd with the vocal charm of a septuagenarian passing a kidney stone returns with a second helping of flotsam mislabeled “Rock and Roll Music.” The only rocks involved here are inside the heads of folks who think whining is the equivalent of singing. Dead End Elvis Costello is not without talent – he can occasionally turn an amusing if somewhat nasty phrase – he simply has the larynx of a petulant kindergartner in need of an enema. After a few testy tunes this rock rolls over and dies.

“Lipstick Vogue” kicks things off with a busy drum roll. The beat’s simply too hyperkinetic for Dead End’s verklempt vocal abilities. Credit drummer Pete Thomas with the barbaric beat, while bassist Bruce Thomas provides a frantic counterpoint, but Dead End Elvis can’t keep up with the pace. He’s spends the too much time playing catch up with the arrangement. When he sings “its yoooooou not just another lipstick vogue,” his nasal gob burrows right into skull like a bad hangover at dawn.

“No Action” is more out of control pop punk. There’s a better flow here than on “Lipstick Vogue,” but there’s too much action. Dead End Elvis sputters and spits out the words, which are as caustic as regurgitated bangers and mash: “I don’t wanna kiss you, I don’t wanna touch you, I don’t wanna see you, ‘cause I don’t miss you that much.” The feeling’s mutual, Dead End.

Steve Nieve’s wobbly keyboard takes a more prominent role in “Big Tears.” Dead End abuses the lyrics with a ridiculously poorly paced vocal. Pete Thomas lays down a more pedestrian beat, but Dead End can’t get behind it. It’s more WAAAAAH at the mike, another self-indulgent diatribe. At least there’s some consolation – Dead End begins to lose his so-called voice at the end.

“(I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea,” which was annexed to “The Best of” returns, which is a shame because I didn’t want to go to Chelsea the first time and I still don’t want to go. This is like coming out of police station after being assaulted and getting mugged all over again.

“This Year’s Girl” has the right mid-tempo beat to keep Dead End’s vitriol from spewing into overdrive. The Thomas’ continue to be inventive, while Nieve continues to be a work in progress whose made little headway. On “This Year’s Girl” he lays down thick chords that carpet the background and keep you from paying too much attention to Dead End’s baying. Better yet, he does it with a real organ instead of that wimpy Farfisa.

Less pissed off than his usual early fair, Dead End still projects memories of an angry punk poet with “Miracle Man.” Dead End also flashes his basic knowledge of guitar with a simple learner’s permit guitar break. “Miracle Man” has more sway and more melody than most of his early material and somehow works, in spite of Dead End’s weak-kneed vocal.

“Clean Money” comes in at a such hell bent for disaster pace you know Dead End’s going to slam dance you into a squinty-eyed froth. This is a crashingly bad mix of pop and punk with back up vocals that sound like they were swiped from Paul McCartney’s “Helen Wheels,” and that was a classic, wasn’t it? “Clean Money” is as worthless as a Confederate dollar.

“Wednesday Week” is the perfect background for a Keystone Cops movie, rapid, dangerous and side-splitting funny – too bad it’s not intended to be that way. Nieve hits the keys like he’s Mr. Kite introducing a circus act. Dead End slows the beat down halfway through but doesn’t help; this is one hump day no one can get over.

Ah, smell that stale beer and body fluids… Feel the bony body of a perfect stranger bouncing off your spleen as he tries to slam dance to the spine-cracking beat. It must be Dead End live…Pete Thomas carries the band and the beat on a live version of “Mystery Dance” and seems to be the only member of The Attractions who might have actually practiced before they hit the stage. Dead End packs so many syllables into the song he might as well be reciting the phone book, but Pete Thomas thankfully drowns him out whenever he comes close to sounding like he’s singing in English. Nieve continues to show tone deaf tendencies with a catty, off-balance solo. A second regrettable live track, “You Belong To Me,” is a case of Dead End Elvis trying to perpetuate a punkish persona and coming across as a mealy mouthed grouch. Given his omnipresence in the studio, bassist Bruce Thomas is surprisingly understated. Pete Thomas is the show, a bit too much at times, but he’s the only one playing rather than puffing out his chest.

“(What’s so Funny About) Peace Love and Understanding?” Nothing except there’s nothing funny about putting this yell-a-thon on a second collection. I doubt Nick Lowe needs the money or the reminder that a potential career-maker can be a weapon in the wrong hands.

Dead End Elvis goes the Buddy Holly hiccup route in “Girls Talk” and turnabout is fair play. Dead End thieved Nick Lowe’s “Peace Love and Understanding,” making it his own. Dave Edmunds took this song and made it into a classic. Amazing how he turned this laconic Ska-influenced version into danceable rockabilly. Dead End wrote a neat little pop tune, but Edmunds’ version is clearly the one that talks.

Everybody borrows the Bo Diddley beat, so why not Dead End Elvis? It always works, and it can take what would have been a mediocre tune, “Lovers Walk,” and turn it into a worthwhile listen. The Tarzan beat is perfect for Pete Thomas, who backs Dead End’s curtailed solo during the second verse. Thanks, Dead End, for keeping it short. “Uncomplicated” is a redux of the Bo Diddley beat at a slightly slower pace with elements of the novelty tune “Running Bear.” The only thing missing is J.P. Richardson pretending to be an Indian. “Uncomplicated” isn’t a great or memorable exercise, but it won’t leave you grimacing every time Dead End assaults the mike.

“Honey Are You Straight of Are You Blind?” is an offensive piece of wrong-headed bile that will make you wish you were not only blind but a eunuch as well. Pete Thomas must’ve gotten tired of being the only musician in the group, because he ruins his kit with abusive swats. Dead End strangles the life out of the title and his voice, holding notes until your eyes bleed.

“I Hope You’re Happy Now” continues the onslaught. No Dead End, I’m not. I’m listening to you snap out lyrics like a dangling desperado cursing his accusers at the end of a rope. Pete Thomas, the band’s only asset, has fallen in love with cymbal bashing, but at least the bass is finger popping good and the Farfisa’s been banished.. Still it’s hard to be happy with someone barking at you like a dog that hasn’t been fed.

Borrowing heavily from Chuck Berry’s “Memphis,” Dead End disguises “Tokyo Storm Warning” with counterpoint vocals and enough mentions of passing scenery to fill an hour on the Travel Channel. This is a case of the lyricist being eaten by his own words, of which there’s a lexicon’s worth: “Japanese God-Jesus robots telling teenage fortunes, for all we know and all we care they might as well be Martians.” That explains it. Dead End is really ET.

The demo for “Welcome to the Working Week” features Dead End alone on the guitar, scratching at it like a starving chick digging in the dirt for feed. He works himself into a lather as he beats the whey out of his strings. Listening to this you know you just picked a bad week to go to work.

“Rock and Roll Music” is for rabid Declan MacManus fans – and if you’re really a fan of Dead End Elvis than you’ll know who MacManus is. I’d rather not know.



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