The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Pretty self-explanatory
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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby Jack of All Parades » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:28 pm

BA- not an obsession on my part with this song- just an honest attempt to respond to CWR's query as to why there is such a perceived antipathy for the song by the listening public by giving voice to my concerns since after all those are the only ones I can voice.
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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby cwr » Fri Mar 04, 2011 11:07 pm

I should make it clear, if it wasn't obvious, that I have ZERO interest in "silencing critical discussion." Why on earth would I want to do that? I'm the one who keeps bringing this song up, wondering why people hate it so!

I was merely pointing out that, just as a matter or personal preference, I've never really gotten comfortable being snarky or sarcastic about certain things in Internet discussions that would be awkward or embarrassing if you were saying them directly TO the person you're talking about. Not just saying that you don't like a song but making of fun of how it's old geezers playing air guitar or some such thing. I'm not saying anyone's wrong to do this, it's just something I can't really get comfortable doing myself.

And yes, none of us are going to any dinner parties with Elvis, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that he might peruse a forum such as this one from time to time. (He might never admit to such a thing, but it's hard to imagine that EC has completely avoided researching himself on the web, and checking out what people might be saying about him.) It certainly wouldn't make anyone suddenly start liking the song "National Ransom" but it might cause one to say it a little bit differently. Maybe there would be slightly less emphasis on how pathetic and old Elvis, Marc Ribot and Jerry Douglas are as they play their guitars. Or maybe not, everybody's got their different modes of operation!

Back to the song itself-- it's fascinating to me how divergent the reactions to it are, simply because it's SO subjective and mysterious. I mean, I think my least favorite Costello song might be "The Long Division" off of Painted From Memory-- it just always seemed like a particularly weak link on that record, largely due to the arrangement (I could imagine a better version of the song itself, perhaps-- although it was a song that EC rarely pulled out in his post-PFM tours with Steve Nieve.) But if someone told me it was their favorite song, I'm not sure what I would say to try to plead my case for why it's so bad to me.

And it's the same with "National Ransom." I'm listening to it now, and it sounds crackling and hook-y to me, pulsing with energy. I mean, it sounds like I'm describing a different song to the one people loathe so much. Again, not in my top tier of Costello songs, but a solid song. And yet, I feel like I'm definitely in the minority on this one, the real passion w/r/t this song is clearly in the anti-NR camp!

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby Hawksmoor » Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:54 am

cwr wrote:Back to the song itself-- it's fascinating to me how divergent the reactions to it are, simply because it's SO subjective and mysterious. I mean, I think my least favorite Costello song might be "The Long Division" off of Painted From Memory-- it just always seemed like a particularly weak link on that record, largely due to the arrangement (I could imagine a better version of the song itself, perhaps-- although it was a song that EC rarely pulled out in his post-PFM tours with Steve Nieve.) But if someone told me it was their favorite song, I'm not sure what I would say to try to plead my case for why it's so bad to me.

And it's the same with "National Ransom." I'm listening to it now, and it sounds crackling and hook-y to me, pulsing with energy. I mean, it sounds like I'm describing a different song to the one people loathe so much. Again, not in my top tier of Costello songs, but a solid song. And yet, I feel like I'm definitely in the minority on this one, the real passion w/r/t this song is clearly in the anti-NR camp!

Agree wholeheartedly, as noted earlier. I don't think 'National Ransom' is one of Costello's Top Twenty (or probably even Top Hundred) songs, and I wouldn't suggest for one moment that everybody else ought to like it because I quite like it, but even so the sheer level of vitriol it attracts is something I find genuinely baffling.

It is (IMHO) an OK-to-average mid-tempo rocker with some amusing word-play - just like fifty or a hundred other Costello songs, in fact. Parts of it are great (the audacious near-rhyming of 'wild-just-like-some' and 'child-ish-tan-trum' is laugh-out-loud good, to my ears). What's to dislike so vehemently? I'd go as far as to say that it's not even the worst track on the LP ('That's Not the Part of Him You're Leaving' struggles to locate its tune and 'My Lovely Jezebel' sounds like they had a lot more fun recording it than I do listening to it).

As for least favourites, I suspect mine would be a tie between 'Broken' and 'The Stamping Ground'* - two of the most tuneless dirges he's ever committed to vinyl (plus half a dozen tracks on North which I admire more than enjoy if I'm honest). I could probably name thirty or forty Costello songs that are (IMHO) a lot worse than 'National Ransom' and I still think it's a pretty strong LP-opener. So there. :)

* 'The Stamping Ground' is redeemed slightly by 'it's very nice to know you but I wouldn't want to be you' which is a great line, but I suspect even that is a lift from somewhere else, although I'm not sure where.

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby Ypsilanti » Sat Mar 05, 2011 5:35 am

You can mark me down as being pro-NR. And I also agree that it's not one of his very best, but it's not a track I skip. Quite listenable.

For me it's the Grandson of Waiting For The End Of The World, the Son of Invasion Hit Parade, Brother of Turpentine, etc...

Hope he always adds to this lineage...rock songs about doom. I'd say it's one of his particular specialties, like love songs about misery and poison pen letters set to music.
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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby cwr » Sat Mar 05, 2011 6:56 am

Excellent point about "My Lovely Jezebel"-- shifting the subject only slightly, I am stunned that the title track has gotten so much scorn while this one is barely mentioned. (Probably just because it IS the title track, and the album opener.)

"My Lovely Jezebel" is perfectly adequate but is the track on NR that I started skipping almost instantly. One of the reviews of NR criticized some of the songs for sounding like "bar band" material, and I feel like this song is the worst example of this, sounding a lot like my least favorite tracks on Kojak Variety.

Do the people who loathe "National Ransom" also dislike "MLJ"? Or are there people who hate "NR" but LOVE or like "MLJ", and why?

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sat Mar 05, 2011 8:35 am

CWR-while we are clarifying-would also note that at no time were Marc Ribot or Jerry Douglas called old geezers playing air guitar. If you read the post their playing on the song is noted as being professional- what was clearly said was that I can now see too many old wannabe would be rockers as I would classify myself now mimicking the obligatory guitar part as it was inserted in the song originally and that I find boring. I, like you, try to keep these posts as free of 'snarkiness' and 'pettiness' as I am able.

"My Lovely Jezebel" is an okay song that leaves me neither despising it or running to put it first in the track order when the record plays. It plays from motifs and the limited chords that Leon could do in his sleep so many years ago. It is innocuous enough. Unlike the title song, I am inclined to let this one play through as background music, much like in a bar. It is just "Sweet Little Rock and Roller" done to the umpteenth time. I am glad Leon was given a chance to perform again and perhaps make some money but it is not a song I would go on about.
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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby Poor Deportee » Sat Mar 05, 2011 12:03 pm

Part of the problem with NR may be that it is indeed the title track - and first single - it's presented to us on several fronts as the key song on the record, really. This is an unwise strategy for a cut that's indifferent at best and naturally invites backlash. As for the song itself, lyrically I suppose it's all right; but like I say, if others can't hear how it sags and basically expires in the pre-chorus, well, good on them. To me it's absolutely glaring that the song keels over just as it should be intensifying. And given that the verses aren't giving us anything we haven't heard 20 000 times, that's when the song totally loses me. The chorus is OK, but not strong enough to redeem the uninspired doings that precede it.

I agree with Christopher on 'Jezebel.' Buried in the midst of a double album, it gets by - rather like some tracks on the White Album :lol: The real abomination on this excellent album, other than the title cut, is 'The Spell that you Cast' - which, tellingly, is another song that's supposed to be some hook-y rip-roaring throwaway. If you ask me, there's been a marked decline in EC's ability to pull off songs of that kind over the years (at least in writing and recording). After years of near-scholarly pursuit of various complex musical idioms, reckless mania just doesn't come out of him as forcefully any more, and his efforts in this respect often strike me as conscious constructions rather than inspired: 'OK, let's now put on the Angry Rocker hat...' Which, of course, is the kiss of death.
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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby cwr » Sat Mar 05, 2011 1:05 pm

Christopher, apologies for my unintentional conflation of your air guitar geezers and the notion of the guitar being played by geezers! I blended the two remarks without realizing it...

The comments about "My Lovely Jezebel" are all pretty on the mark-- it's buried in the album, it's got the Leon Russell aspect (which kind of makes it kin to EC's recording of "Eisenhower Blues", in that you get the feeling that it's at least partly on the album out of a combination of respect and sentimentality, in that it probably wouldn't have made the album purely on its merits if the exact same track had been recorded without any music legends present.) The White Album comparison works, I think. I'd imagine that Elvis would defend it the same way he's stood up for "Playboy To A Man" (a much-derided EC track that I happen to love), that it's just a bit of relief amongst the more ambitious songs.

Also, I'd agree that "The Spell That You Cast" might be an even weaker NR track, in that I didn't even think of it as a contender until it was just mentioned here. It's not horrible or anything, but as a catchy bit of noise, it would be a minor track on WIWC, let alone NR. When I think of how a song like this pales in comparison to, say, "Beaten To The Punch", it feels like a pretty steep decline. And the vast majority of NR is so good that these weak spots really stand out.

I think that "NR" being both the opener and the title track really does put a lot of pressure on it-- it's essentially in the "Brilliant Mistake" spot on the album, and those are big shoes to fill. It works for me, but I can imagine if I didn't like it it would be a really galling thing. I think that probably does explain the intensity of the feeling among those who dislike it...

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby History History » Sat Mar 05, 2011 1:38 pm

Hawksmoor wrote:
cwr wrote:
* 'The Stamping Ground' is redeemed slightly by 'it's very nice to know you but I wouldn't want to be you' which is a great line, but I suspect even that is a lift from somewhere else, although I'm not sure where.


When I was a kid 'Nice to see ya, wouldn't want to be ya' was quite a common catchphrase when saying goodbye to friends.

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby cwr » Sun Mar 06, 2011 10:22 am

It could just be a coincidence, but it occurs to me that the alternate version of "National Ransom" could be evidence that he does, indeed, haunt this message board from time to time.

After all, he played this new, weird version in concert in Seoul last weekend. Now, we know from his radio performance of the song last fall that he had a perfectly good solo arrangement of the song, why would he scrap that for this new "Tom Waits" version? Could it be that he was aware of the fact that it was by far the most widely disliked song on the album, or at least the one that attracted the most negative comments?

I say there's a good chance that his oddball re-arrangement was a direct response. It wouldn't be the first time that I sensed a direct correlation between internet chatter and EC's concert setlist. It was either here or on the costello-l list that people were once discussing how much they hated the song "Gigi" from the Deep Dead Blue EP. Literally days later, EC performed "Gigi" in concert, as if to say "You don't like this song? Well, here it is AGAIN!"

Maybe he just got it into his head that "National Ransom" needed a slower, stranger arrangement, but I think otherwise. I think this message board is the primary outlet for EC fans venting about that song, and I think he took it to heart. (The fact that he made the song even LESS easy to love seems consistent with his general attitude about the Internet-- it influences his song selection every now and then, but only out of spite!)

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sun Mar 06, 2011 10:41 am

Were this so it would be so petty and petulant-I would like to think he is above such things. Who knows? As to the redo, I wish personally he had gone more the route of Los Lobos as they electronically revisited their song "Viking' years ago. Their rearrangement added a spectral richness to the song. EC's reworking is wanting in coherence and seems cobbled together with little thought and is near as moribund as the original.
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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby alexv » Sun Mar 06, 2011 10:48 am

cwr, been away from the Board for a while, so I'm coming late to the NR and NR2 discussion. Don't much like NR2. Does strike me as too Tom Waitsish for it to be taken seriously.

I'm sorry to say that I'm firmly in the anti-NR1 camp. It is the only song on NR that makes me cringe. Don't see a melody and the lyrics are, for me, EC at his worst.

Anyway, just to keep things in perspective, I also skip Dr. Watson, a song that is lauded here by many of the same people who dis NR1. There is no accounting for taste, even among our group here, a group that consists of EC lovers of supreme musical taste.

I do take issue, respectfully, with your notion that not liking NR1 and liking the record is like not liking the PTC opener and liking PTC, or liking Wine and not liking Sugar.

For me, EC's records are too varied for the lead song to be given that kind of significance. NR, in particular, is such a varied (dare I say "eclectic"?) record, that NR stands pretty much as a one-of: a straight ahead rock song full of trademarked EC venom, both in delivery and content. When you compare it to Moon or Dark or Bullets or Jimmy or Josephine you have to, I think, conclude that there is no connection.

On your two examples, and I guess this is the reason your comment made such an impression, I am one of those who skips the PTC opener (ok song, but a soul cliche) and loves the record, and who thinks Wine is an ok on an otherwise very mediocre EC record. Nothing about either song should, I think, color the rest of the records.

On the point about Board negativity, my two cents is that this is not a Justin Bieber fan site. It's a adult site, most of the time, and I return to it because it doesn't have a Fan Boy vibe. I think we all love EC's work, but not blindly. In my case, I've mentioned my dislike of this song just about every time i've put my two cents in on the record, but i've been clear that I think this record is his best since PFM, again in my personal view. And I've sung the praises of at least five spectacular songs from the record. So what's the big deal with also noting a distaste for a song? It's just personal taste. And not liking a song that others like doesn't mean you lack taste or anything like that. It's just personal vibes. Now if you liked Bieber's stuff, and were older than 15 I'd worry.

CWR, on your last post about EC paying attention to our banter, I wish you were right but i'd bet the house he doesn't read this stuff, and that even if he did he, being the perverse fucker i'm pretty sure he is (and I love that about him) he would probably do the exact opposite of what we would want him to. But it would be nice if your guess was right.

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby docinwestchester » Sun Mar 06, 2011 11:17 am

Didn't "bruce thomas" recently post here? Or was that obviously fake?

It does raise an interesting question about these fan sites. If I were the artist, I'd be very interested in what the peeps had to say about me, just for laughs if not for actual feedback. As I've said before, the level of discussion and knowledge of the artist at this site is as sophisticated as any other site I've lurked through, and I've lurked a lot.

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby cwr » Sun Mar 06, 2011 3:43 pm

On the point about Board negativity, my two cents is that this is not a Justin Bieber fan site. It's a adult site, most of the time, and I return to it because it doesn't have a Fan Boy vibe. I think we all love EC's work, but not blindly. In my case, I've mentioned my dislike of this song just about every time i've put my two cents in on the record, but i've been clear that I think this record is his best since PFM, again in my personal view. And I've sung the praises of at least five spectacular songs from the record. So what's the big deal with also noting a distaste for a song? It's just personal taste. And not liking a song that others like doesn't mean you lack taste or anything like that. It's just personal vibes. Now if you liked Bieber's stuff, and were older than 15 I'd worry.


I should make it clear that I wasn't trying to censor anybody or stifle debate, just that my own personal style is that I sometimes get uncomfortable with Internet snark. It wasn't even a particularly egregious example of snark either! It just doesn't tend to be my own personal style, and I have as much a right to express that feeling as anyone on here has to express literally any other thing they want to express on this message board. That's what's great about it, we can all say whatever we want and react accordingly! Really didn't expect it to gain so much traction, but I guess I touched a nerve in a weird way, and my own remark was maybe as damaging, or possibly more so, than the one I was reacting to. (It should be noted that I am one of the very few individuals in the whole entire world who likes the song "National Ransom" and as such, likely have very little credibility on this board.)

CWR, on your last post about EC paying attention to our banter, I wish you were right but i'd bet the house he doesn't read this stuff, and that even if he did he, being the perverse fucker i'm pretty sure he is (and I love that about him) he would probably do the exact opposite of what we would want him to. But it would be nice if your guess was right.


That's what I'm saying, though: the reason I'm suggesting that he DOES haunt this board occasionally is that he played "Gigi" a few days after there was chatter about it (which MIGHT have been on the costello-l mailing list, I can't recall) being people's least favorite EC performance, he pulled it out in concert. This was many, many years after Deep Dead Blue, so it would be a pretty huge coincidence if he wasn't doing it as a perverse-yet-playful response. Now, he sees that people don't like "National Ransom" so what does he do? He does a version that is even HARDER to like, and deliberately so. EC knows enough to know that this weirdo version is not exactly going to light up the hit parade-- it's deliberately, aggressively almost DARING you to listen all the way through. Why do you think he's GIVING it away?

I think he's doing these things with a certain sense of humor-- it's funny to respond to fans this way.

Now let's all start talking about how we really don't want him to record an entire album produced by Brian Eno because "My Dark Life" was such a disaster. (And he definitely shouldn't play that one in concert next time I'm in attendance...)

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby Poor Deportee » Sun Mar 06, 2011 7:47 pm

I'd prefer to think that EC is altering the song because he's come to recognize that the original version wasn't all that he hoped. Having said that, I'm of two minds as to whether Elvis would ever drop in here. On the one hand, he's clearly a busy fellow and his contempt for the online world is well-documented. On the other hand, would he have developed such contempt, if it had never stung him personally in any way? - and relatedly, his vanity is by all accounts considerable. This is a man who poured over critical reviews of, say, 'Punch the Clock,' right? So is it really believable that he would be utterly indifferent to online discussions of his work?

My guess is that EC drops into such sites when the mood strikes him: likely a mood inflected with paranoia, though. Given his apparent predisposition to be hostile to the web, thread titles like 'Has Elvis Ever Discussed his Weight Loss?' are likely to compound the jaundiced response :lol: Conversely, it's much more enjoyable to imagine him doing it, as cwr suggests, playfully. For an artist who is not above addressing his fans directly in his music (perhaps most painfully in 'When I Was Cruel' No.1) it would seem to be one more small vein to mine for such strategies and in-jokes.

More broadly, I'd speculate that limited engagement with intelligent disucssion boards would be a healthy thing for an artist. If nothing else, it's a source of honest feedback from people who generally wish you and work well. Obsessing over it would be another story, as the last thing creativity needs is endless navel-gazing. But lurking here and there? I'm sure I'd do it in his shoes.
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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby alexv » Sun Mar 06, 2011 9:38 pm

Doc, that alleged Thomas post, if legit, is certainly a sign that EC could also be lurking.

But I doubt that EC is aping his former buddy. EC strikes me as the kind of artist who would consider that kind of thing to be beneath him, somehow. He's all about the music, you know. Just puts the stuff out there, and the public response is outside his interest. There's a professionalism to him that puts us right where we belong: in the amateur confines of music discussion. But that's just a guess.

And of course, when JF publishes his definitive account of the Life of Elvis he will get his comeuppance. He should have been here!! Would have learned a couple of things about his life.

If he does appear, somehow, it will still be difficult to know the truth. I am assuming that it would be tempting, in the nether world of the net, for someone to adopt his guise for the purpose of settling scores. That BT post could have been an example of that kind of approach, but you never know.

CWR, I get your point, and your comments certainly were not interpreted by me, or by the others I think, as trying to censor debate. From my point of view none of the comments about NR the song, either positive or negative, were snarky in tone. The group here is certainly opinionated, and it's tricky sometimes to avoid making a negative reaction come across as overly aggressive in tone. But again I don't think that was the case here.

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby History History » Mon Mar 07, 2011 2:34 pm

Who's to say one of us isn't Elvis? :lol: :lol: :lol: I nominate Verbal as a possible suspect!

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby jardine » Mon Mar 07, 2011 4:38 pm

maybe rachel?

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby Jack of All Parades » Mon Mar 07, 2011 5:30 pm

"I'm Spartacus"!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby Jeremy Dylan » Mon Mar 07, 2011 8:26 pm

Well you rumbled me. Thanks for your support guys, I hope I've gratified many of you at my performances over the years. Can't wait to hear what you think of my next album, a collaboration with Mr. Charlie Sheen (or Tiger Coward as he will be henceforth known) - our DOUBLE WINNING LP will be out through Hear Music on Thanksgiving this year.

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby verbal gymnastics » Tue Mar 08, 2011 6:14 pm

History History wrote:Who's to say one of us isn't Elvis? :lol: :lol: :lol: I nominate Verbal as a possible suspect!


Unfortunately Elvis and I have been in the same place at the same time with witnesses so I am definitely ruled out.

And we were told Jeremy was in England in 2010 (although he never made any attempt to meet up with us) and was wandering around with members of the Sugarcanes so there might be more to jeremy's post than you think...

...and remember, Elvis was in 2 and a half men so the Charlie Sheen collaboration album may not be that far fetched!
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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby Ypsilanti » Wed Mar 09, 2011 7:22 am

jardine wrote:maybe rachel?

:lol: :lol: :lol: Heeheeheehee!

Actually, I suspect there is probably some poor bastard intern, sitting in a cubicle at EC's management company who has the miserable task of combing the internet--including this site--and reporting anything of real interest to his superiors...
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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby cwr » Wed Mar 09, 2011 10:38 am

"So, what are they saying about me?"

"They're talking about how they don't like when you covered "Gigi" that one time."

"That settles it. I'm gonna play it again, tomorrow."

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby History History » Wed Mar 09, 2011 1:33 pm

cwr wrote:"So, what are they saying about me?"

"They're talking about how they don't like when you covered "Gigi" that one time."

"That settles it. I'm gonna play it again, tomorrow."


I don't want Elvis to bring the spinning songbook show to London.

(It's worth a try!).

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Re: The Return Of The Imposter: National Ransom No.2

Postby wardo68 » Wed Mar 09, 2011 2:33 pm

Meanwhile, I've finally listened closely to this new version (thanks again Doc!) and while I don't hate it, I prefer the straightforward take of the album version. This one is certainly adventurous, from the opening keyboard part that's a cross between "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "I'm A Fool To Want You", to the way the melody heightens with anger all the way through.


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