The mail bought a bunch of things this last week (but not the AK79 t shirt that Warners had promised me sadly). There were the normal bills and bank statements of course, a couple or three magazines, the latest kiwi hit discs, and a bunch of CDs.
Amongst the latter were two I was really were hanging out to hear (in Bali, unless you are wanting six month old mainstream releases from the majors, or poor pirated copies of pomp rock or R&B pop, you have to rely on Indonesia Post, who are quite efficient and certainly far more honest than their Australian equivalent from experience), the Toussaint / Costello collaboration; and the album from Matt Edward’s alter ego Rekid on Soul Jazz. Both I assume could correctly be described as current releases but both could also just as accurately be described as light years apart.
Whilst the Costello album (and despite the cover credit it is more or less just that, but I’ll get to that later) and the Rekid album are both new releases by current recording acts, one to me sadly reflects an artist perceived to be, rightly or wrongly, in something of a decline … and god, its hard to say that when I’ve been such an unquestioning fan … whilst the other is indicative of someone with something fresh and vaguely revolutionary to say. The irony in this of course is that Matt Edwards is Elvis Costello twenty five years ago. My father once said to me that you don’t really understand time until you get older, and, as with so much my father said to me when I was a disbelieving bullet-proof teen, so it is. Thus, for me its something of a thing to witness the young angry man as the elder statesman of trad, just as it is to see Paul McCartney, the same young eager face I thought was so cool peering out from the cover of his first solo album when I bought it from the PDC in Palmerston North on release (I still have the same much loved copy), turning 64, an age I’m closer to now than I want to think about (although not that close yet).
I really like the Costello record a lot with some major reservations. I like, no, that’s not fair, love about five songs, am ambivalent about five and seriously dislike three. The ones I dislike, I do so for one simple reason, I really hate songs that try too hard to “rock out” and sadly Elvis’ attempts to “rock” in recent years have sounded increasingly post Americana try-hard, something I put down to too many Little Feat and Robbie Robertson records in his youth, although he didn’t really suffer from the blight until the nineties. That’s the first problem. The second one I have is with the production. Where is the economy? There are things that someone needed to have the balls to say to Elvis: no, that doesn’t work, your voice doesn’t suit this one; but I get the feeling he is something of an autocrat in the behind the desk and perhaps Joe Henry is not the man to stand up to him. To me it sounds woolly and in-concise; there is at times a lack of definition. Costello records used to be the sharpest on the block. Where is Nick Lowe when you need him.
The third problem is the overshadowing of Toussaint. Now, I know this started life as Costello’s album of AT songs and grew from there, but it is co-credited now as being by both artists and clearly a song like International Echo could’ve been saved from its current nothingness by the rich rolling, somewhat more gentle, tones of Mr Toussaint. The same could be said for Six Fingered Man, which is so obviously crying out for his voice. I mean, it’s not a bad song, just a little workman and plodding and it didn’t have to be. Instead, Elvis dominates with Toussaint only getting a vocal look-in on one track, instead being relegated to almost a sideman status, and the front sleeve almost has a look of “look which legend I managed get to pose with for the cover” feel about it.
So, moans aside, there are enough truly lovely tracks herein to make it worth the journey. The title track is classic Costello, and is lifted by the wondrously woeful horns on the pre and post chorus. The Sharpest Thorn likewise is a barroom ballad that suits Elvis’ rather unique voice so well, and I love the way it drunkenly rolls into a New Orleans street feel for the last half. But the best are the beautifully plaintiff and delicate take of Nearer to You and the magnificent cover of one of my favourite Toussaint songs, All These Things done so definitively in the past by not one, but two Nevilles, Art and Aaron, which in itself is pretty daunting for anyone. Tackling a song like this must either speak of Elvis’ courage or his ego, I don’t know which. But he pulls it off and makes it his own, or at least the equal of those mighty versions. Very very cool and worth the price of admission.
So on to the current generation. As I said earlier, Matt Edwards is Elvis, or Howard Devoto, or Jah Wobble or whoever, two generations on. He’s the guy (or one of them) making the records that others are going la la over. He’s the guy pushing the proverbial boundaries and boy, is he doing it so well. I love Made In Menorca a lot. Its one of those records that makes you stop and take a breath, go “what the fuck is this”. But it exists in its time too, pulling together so many strands, so many historical themes; to me it sounds like Can meets The Congos meets early Marshall Jefferson with a splash of contemporary technology thrown into the mix, and it’s a nice irony that he’s managed by Dave Dorrell, ex of MARRS and all those wonderful mixes with CJ Macintosh back in the day. Listen to the synthesised churn of Arp; the shimmering sex of Nite; the glorious stuttering washes of Lost Star 6; and the grinding dubbed out funk of the huge 85 Space, which feels like you are listening to it spinning around and around in some massive room in, I guess, Menorca.
It’s a record that makes you want to scream out HOW FUCKING GOOD IS THIS? And I guess that’s what I’m doing here in my own small way.
Maybe he could produce the next Costello album…