Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Pretty self-explanatory
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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby History History » Sun Apr 24, 2011 4:02 pm

sulky lad wrote:cwr wrote
However, I remember thinking at the time that it was maybe the least impressive use of Steve on any album, and I have to say that the Steve Nieve who has been featured on Costello albums ever since seems like a tamed creature, rarely given the chance to shine or showboat the way he did on the early records. I wonder why that is. He feels utterly wasted on WIWC, and while Steve is obviously still awesome in concert, I can't say that I can think of too many standout performances by him on the records he's done with Elvis in the past decade, while the records from TYM to B&C are chock full of amazing star turns by SN.

Spot on CWR. It always stunned me that after the triumphant "back to basics performances of 1998 and 999 with just guitar and Steve, after a lull, Elvis produced an album that completely neutered Steve's contributions apart from the magnificent piano tour de force of Episode Of Blonde ( which to my mind has the most catchy chorus of anything on WIWC.) I also love North - in certain moods - but it doesn't really allow Steve to push the songs to their limits either, there really hasn't been much of the genius that is Steve since some of the mood pieces from ATUB,imho.
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Only if it includes Revolution 9 :lol:

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby sulky lad » Sun Apr 24, 2011 5:14 pm

Brilliant, History !!
Do you think I should just add it on at the end ? :lol:
I think we all collectively breathed a sigh of relief when WIWC was released and for those of us in the UK we had a two part tour of concert halls which meant a far greater exposure to Elvis and a band for the first time for 6 years but in retrospect, the album was lacklustre and unfortunately, with precious few exceptions, most songs which had been previewed on tour with Steve were diminished by the recording process, particularly 45 , Alibi (or Alibi Factory as it had been titled in 1999) and WIWC No. 2. Further to this there was a suite of songs, Burnt Sugar, Heart Shaped Bruise, Passionate Fight and You Lie Sweetly which almost presaged the mood that would evolve on North and which would have lightened the dark, denseness of this album. Funnily enough, when I saw The imposters as The Astoria in London, my heart leapt when Elvis started with a new song "My Little Blue Window" and I felt so excited about the album - playing it back now with hindsight, i feel as as I was too desperate for a "rowdy rhythm record!" I must post the XFM recording of this show and add the tracks missing from my recording on dime sometime too !

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby verbal gymnastics » Sun Apr 24, 2011 5:40 pm

The view of experimentation and "some of it works and some of it doesn't" is fair comment.

Like the_platypus I am not good at explaining why I like certain songs and why I don't like others. Same with artists.

I think there was a general sigh of relief for us back in 2002 that Elvis was back with a band and, more importantly to hear the back catalogue. Especially with the new arrival, Davey.

WIWC is not my least favourite album but nor is it up there amongst my favourites.

(one of my favourites is The Deliveryman with its killer track, Alison - sorry Colin, I couldn't resist :lol: )
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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby cwr » Sun Apr 24, 2011 6:49 pm

To a certain extent, as with so many debates of the merits of one album over another, there is no argument but that we disagree.

I like Momofuku, but feel that it is all at a solid B+ to A- level, but even my favorite songs on there don't rise to the level of ambition (for my taste, anyway) of the most enjoyable tracks on WIWC.

It doesn't bother me that the song "Tart" isn't really "about" anything. The same could be said of a great many written-in-code Elvis Costello songs from the very beginning of his career. I know what "My Three Sons" is about, but it doesn't particularly make me like the song any better. I like the feel and the energy of "Tart." I don't think that these are things that have to be proved or disproven. I could write a 1000-word essay on why I like MLAR and go into great detail, it's not going to make it any easier to convince someone who hates "Playboy To A Man" that it's a fun song that serves an important function in the structure of that album...

I think that the aggressive sonic approach of WIWC would have been a lot better if he had thought of it and then wrote a bunch of songs with that sound in mind, but I think it seems like he mashed the sound onto a lot of songs he already had. Certainly, at least four of the songs were written for other projects that never happened-- the two songs that were ultimately cut from the "Prison Song" movie, and the two songs he wrote for the sitcom he pitched to the WB with T Bone. Where the sound worked best -- I'd argue, on "Dust" or on "When I Was Cruel No. 2"-- it worked pretty well, I think. Some songs like "My Little Blue Window" seemed to succeed in spite of the production style he was using, but still would have no doubt sounded better if recorded for The Delivery Man or National Ransom...

One thing that's interesting to note is that WIWC might be the last instance where he really adopted an ambitious new style in the recording studio, right? Since then, it's mostly been about recording it all "live in the studio" with as little studio trickery as possible. Am I forgetting an instance since then where he really tried to do something crazy in the way he made a record?

(I really wish he would team up with Brian Eno for a whole record. I've been wishing for that since "My Dark Life.")

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sun Apr 24, 2011 7:08 pm

Platypus, you make a valid point regarding the melody of Tart and it didn't have to be a 'long winded essay'- my wife played it for me and it is very pleasant. The problem for me has always been the lyric which is an abysmal mess to my ears[which is what PD points to in the quote when he notes it is a lovely melody looking for a good lyric]. You do offer a perspective that I tend to overlook. My entree to this artist and others naturally gravitates to the lyric. I love words and the connotations and sounds that can be heard from their various combinations. My first entrance into most pop songs is through the music in the lyric. It stems from a real love for poetry and its 'music' or sounds. I also agree with you that good music should produce a certain 'joy'. This record, unfortunately, has consistently failed to do that for me. I do disagree that it is easy to viably criticize something; that is hard work. I find it far easier to praise a given work which I love to do.

That you gave me a different way to look at Tart is something I sincerely appreciate. Thank you.
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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby jardine » Sun Apr 24, 2011 7:27 pm

"Am I forgetting an instance since then where he really tried to do something crazy in the way he made a record? "

but for its waitism, N.R. #2 is a bit odd...and, frankly, playing live with a band in a studio w. no auto tone etc., etc., is also a bit odd these days...

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby History History » Mon Apr 25, 2011 3:08 am

The comments about WIWC here all make valid points from platypus to Christopher. The album as a whole reminds me in tone of MLAR; claustrophobic, harsh and bitter with the added ingredient of sadness (My Little Blue Window, I believe, deals with his depression.) Both these albums indirectly reflect his personal life and while Elvis does angry better than most, he bucks the trend regarding tragedy equals great art. In fact, when he wanted to express a mood of sadness he turned to songs written by others (AB). His contentment nowadays is producing better albums (NR).

Personally speaking, I've always liked Daddy Can I Turn This?

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby mood swung » Mon Apr 25, 2011 7:42 am

I've always liked this one, because it's the point at which I came back to Elvis.

And now I find myself drifting away again. :cry:
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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby Poor Deportee » Mon Apr 25, 2011 11:58 am

Christopher Sjoholm wrote:Platypus, you make a valid point regarding the melody of Tart and it didn't have to be a 'long winded essay'- my wife played it for me and it is very pleasant. The problem for me has always been the lyric which is an abysmal mess to my ears[which is what PD points to in the quote when he notes it is a lovely melody looking for a good lyric]. You do offer a perspective that I tend to overlook. My entree to this artist and others naturally gravitates to the lyric. I love words and the connotations and sounds that can be heard from their various combinations. My first entrance into most pop songs is through the music in the lyric. It stems from a real love for poetry and its 'music' or sounds. I also agree with you that good music should produce a certain 'joy'. This record, unfortunately, has consistently failed to do that for me. I do disagree that it is easy to viably criticize something; that is hard work. I find it far easier to praise a given work which I love to do.

That you gave me a different way to look at Tart is something I sincerely appreciate. Thank you.


Yes, the thought of people loving 'Tart' doesn't make me shake my head in bewilderment. It has a nice melody and the lyric has some potential. I drew an analogy with 'All Time Doll' when thinking about this song, because both seem to me examples of attractive tunes in search of good lyrics. In the end, both tracks leave me with the same hollow feeling of having been led nowhere. (It terms of overall sound, though, I'd rate 'Doll' more highly, because it seems to me more interesting, and doesn't have that - to my ears - inappropriate 'rock' element grafted onto it).

As far as the words go: there's nothing wrong with allusive lyrics that don't carry a meaning in literal terms. Bob Dylan really carried the craft of such songs to new heights, and a lot of ancient folk songs give us lyrical 'nonsense' that somehow opens up its own myserious, evocative world. It's just that 'Tart' fails to elicit that response from me. And in thinking about why, it may be because so much of the lyric is just functional . E.g.,

oranges roll in the gutter and you pick one up
Pull back the skin
To the red fruit within

is OK, not bad writing by any means, but it doesn't summon anything particularly vigorous - to me it just comes off as a windy way of saying, 'you peeled an orange,' meant to fill up the notes demanded by the melody. (Lyrically speaking, you could have dropped the last two lines altogether). And all this seems almost anticlimactic coming at the end of a verse: wow, this leads up to...that? (Maybe if her teeth had fallen out or something! But the chorus just takes us to complaining about the flavour. Too many words put to too little payoff).

Or, craft-wise, there's

NY-
lon was hung from a peg

In contrast to the much sharper opening syllables of the previous verses, which can actually bear the emphasis placed on them by the melody ('Here/silver trumpets will trill...' 'Art/where nothing else grows...' 'Wild/with a blackberry bush...'), this splitting of 'nylon' into two beats is just weak - in fact a cheat. And yet he sees fit to begin the final verse, which should be the strongest, with that limp gambit. That's the work of a 'semi-sick craftsman,' as John Lennon once referred to himself.

Small points to try to illustrate why the lyric leaves me cold. Like '15 Petals,' it just doesn't come off convincingly in my book. But you know, I say this all by way of discussion. Not trying to piss on anyone's parade or anything.
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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby alexv » Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:04 pm

Been away for a while, so late to the WIWC party. This is my least liked EC record by a mile. I dislike this record intensely, mostly for irrational reasons. Here goes.

I was bothered by everything that surrounded the release of the record. First, it was the EC pr message: we were getting a rowdy rock and roll record. In Elvis’ world everyone else was making boring rock and roll records; time for real rhythmic rock and roll from an expert.

He stashed away the funny hats from the PFM tour (now recycled) and put on his ill fitting black leather jacket and wool cap, because every change in musical direction must of course be accessorized. A new-found guitar and noise obsession appeared. Let’s bring out 37 guitars for every show. Who needs Pete Thomas when you have a little rhythm box, tape loops and an Italian babe who goes “Ung” or something like that.

One-man-band Elvis doing the hard core rock and roll thang. Our very own Justin Timberlake without his producer, or even a piano man. The warning bells went off.

When I heard the record my fears were realized. The tape loops and odd beeps and guitar noises that EC talks about may have been added by EC to make it all seem modern somehow, but the result is that the greatness in EC’s songs disappeared. That’s why I never saw the record as an attempt to get back to rock and rock Elvis. The rock and roll Elvis was about music made by a combo where the bass and piano did the hard work musically, and EC provided the word and melodies. Words and Melody not rhythm makes EC EC. Rhythmic bass players make EC EC; a great piano player makes EC EC. Guitar gods need not apply. Tape loops? Maybe for Justin Timberlake (who is great at that stuff, by the way), but on an EC record? Why?

As he said at the time, he set out to make a “rhythm” record and started playing with gadgets. Ok, I buy it. The result is a record with EC’s version of rhythm, and very little of what he is really good at, like melody. I think Platypus is right in that he was probably inspired by modern hip-hop R&B when doing this record. Unfortunately, I can’t think of anyone less capable of doing modern hip-hop R&B than our Hero, and this album proves it.

I like the Spooky Girlfriend version from the Cruel Smiles thing, though. And that is just EC and a rhythm box, so go figure. I like the Episode of Blonde version from the record with the classical ensemble. Nice chorus. I like Tear Off your Own Head. And the WIWC version from Smiles I like too.

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby oily slick » Mon Apr 25, 2011 4:37 pm

mood swung wrote:I've always liked this one, because it's the point at which I came back to Elvis.

And now I find myself drifting away again. :cry:


exactly. its because it now mostly so damn boring at best and embarrasing at worst. he loves it, but he's a pretender. wiwc with 15 petals, tart, dust, no 2 and oooooo episode of blonde. save for that bland opener and soul for hire problem. and anyone who saw him on the tour and i did a bunch of times, he was angry and fun and energized and blew the back out of all that shit.
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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby Emotional Toothpaste » Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:03 am

National Ransom is far worse than WIWC in my opinion.

Gave Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane a spin the other night and forgot how much more I like it than NR. So much more relaxed, easy to listen to, and not over-reaching.

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby Riddler » Tue Apr 26, 2011 1:51 pm

There was a comment earlier in this thread about Steve's contribution and how it was less impressive than the early records. That rang true to me and hit a nerve. If you think about it, in the early days when the A's were holed up on buses, hotels, backstage and studios they got to hear EC's songs as they came out of his head and could spend loads of time working out lines and arrangements, often taking the music in directions EC hadn't really considered (Chelsea and BB being 2 well known examples of the A's impact). With WIWC and the other records since, I get the feeling that the working method is that EC sends the others quite polished home demos which include actual lines he wants them to play. Then they have a few days rehearsal in an expensive studio, then they record straight away. I get the feeling that Steve simply doesn't have the time, space, opportunity, or encouragement to work his parts up to anything approaching the level of AWH etc. I find this a shame and I wonder how Steve feels about this when he's in front of the deep dark truthful mirror. My wish would be that EC and Steve and Pete (and Bruce) would go back to the cottage in Cornwall and spend a few cheap months working on new stuff; giving it time to develop and grow. I even feel that if this was undoable that if EC recorded his records at the end of tours rather than before him they would be far meatier affairs than recent efforts have proved (even though I like lots of elements of them fine).

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby Neil. » Tue Apr 26, 2011 7:05 pm

To the person who said Tart's lyrics are stupid and meaningless... yeah, they might be, but they're not quite as one-dimensional as you make out.

You say the first few lines are about the peeling of an orange, and therefore, you imply, what's the deal? I'm sorry, I may have a dirty mind, but I've never heard a mainstream pop artist conjuring up the image of the peeling back of a penis's foreskin before, or of muff diving (depending on your sexual orientation!). This is a pretty bold lyric. It's soooo sexual, you'd have to be a nun not to notice it - it's really not about peeling oranges in Seville (but that layer of images makes the song even better). The cheap eroticism of the lyrics is fab, with the fishnets (both literal and lingerie-related) and the whole dirty, sexual vibe of the singing. And what a great melody! It's a tossed-off, fun, non-naturalistic lyric that doesn't need to be anything more - Elvis does naturalism in other songs - Sleep of the Just is a heartfelt little story of a sister and brother, and Elvis observing them - but not EVERY song has to be blatant in its emotion or meaning - it can be meaningless, as hundreds of years of music without lyrics is. To scatter some exciting-sounding lyrics among a melody is fine - not every song has to have an interpretable lyric - you can have gobbledigook - impressionistic lyrics which create a mood (in this case, blatant, almost sleazy, disgusted eroticism) as an end in itself. It doesn't have to have a through line where every phrase can be explained.

Sorry, I'm a bit pissed (in the British sense of the word), so rambling incoherently!

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby verbal gymnastics » Wed Apr 27, 2011 1:54 am

Henceforth you shall be known as Neil. Gwynn!
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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby mood swung » Wed Apr 27, 2011 8:01 am

I must be a nun. :lol: but I like your interpretation, Neil. Pissed or not. :lol:
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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby sulky lad » Wed Apr 27, 2011 12:32 pm

I love it when Neill stumbles home after a night on the tiles and lets his Celtic soul loose on some Costello theme ! :roll:
I loved "Tart" and felt there was a sleazy aspect to it in Elvis' voice, especially the way he sings the line about pulling back the skin but isn't it also a song about disappointment as in life, relationships and self ? Definitely one of the better WIWC songs without necessarily being intense or indeed intensive !

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby Jack of All Parades » Wed Apr 27, 2011 5:01 pm

"but not EVERY song has to be blatant in its emotion or meaning - it can be meaningless, as hundreds of years of music without lyrics is. To scatter some exciting-sounding lyrics among a melody is fine - not every song has to have an interpretable lyric - you can have gobbledigook - impressionistic lyrics which create a mood (in this case, blatant, almost sleazy, disgusted eroticism) as an end in itself. It doesn't have to have a through line where every phrase can be explained."

Sure, I suppose such a reading can be applied though it strikes me as a somewhat puerile usage of lyric space if read that way. I would hope for better from a lyricist of his ability. In my mind the images of fruit can be just that- fruit which though seemingly sweet on the surface can be 'tart' just as a memory of a former love can be turned 'tart' by time. If one one wants to equate that fruit with a female form, I suppose one can. Confused as to how the lyric can be meaningless one moment while strong effort is given to give it an erotic connotation at the same time. Also not certain how 'hundreds of years of music without lyrics is" meaningless. I guess that means the majority of work by classical composers has no meaning. Have difficulty understanding that thought. What is strange is that PD did not contend that the lyric is 'stupid and meaningless'. He, nicely I think, showed in a few succinct examples where the song falls short for him as pertains to craftsmanship. I happen to share his concerns with this song. I agree with him that "Tart" leaves me 'with a hollow feeling'. There is little going on in those lines that I find compelling or engaging and its lines of 'functionality' do not hold my interest over time.
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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby wordnat » Mon May 02, 2011 10:47 pm

WIWC's trendy production makes it already sound as dated as GCW.

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby thepopeofpop » Tue May 03, 2011 5:19 am

Emotional Toothpaste wrote:National Ransom is far worse than WIWC in my opinion.



Everybody's different. I think "National Ransom" might be the best album he's ever made, and I've been a fan for over 30 years.

WIWC? I like "Daddy Can I Turn This?", that's pretty good. "Radio Silence" is quite good too, but I like "WIWC #1" better than "WIWC #2". It's not his worst album though.
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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby the_platypus » Wed May 04, 2011 9:31 pm

wordnat wrote:WIWC's trendy production makes it already sound as dated as GCW.


Most every EC record sounds "dated", one way or another. I'm not really bothered by it.

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby pophead2k » Fri May 06, 2011 4:55 pm

I don't have much of an opinion on the lyric to Tart, but I love the sound of this song. What some find jarring, I find exciting. I like that this sounds pretty damn raw.

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby wordnat » Wed May 11, 2011 12:01 am

This thread made me pull out WIWC and listen to it from start to finish for the first time in several years. Some observations:
1. "15 Petals" is unlistenable.
2. The "Dust 2..." "...Dust" nonsense is annoying.
3. "Episode of Blonde" is brilliant.
4. Great cover / art direction.
5. :|

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby the_platypus » Sun Sep 11, 2011 8:08 am

I listened to this album for the first time in a while this morning. I enjoyed it a lot more than I remembered.

I've never heard "Oh Well".

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Re: Straining to outlive the past re:WIWC

Postby Kevin Davis » Sun Sep 11, 2011 8:31 am

When I Was Cruel was my first Costello album. I bought it on my 19th birthday in the summer of 2002--indeed after reading scores of those "return to form" reviews. By the end of the year I owned every Costello album then available. I understand some of the objections people have to the sound, the production, etc., but how someone wouldn't consider upwards of half but at least a third of its tracks, as compositions, essential additions to the canon is somewhat beyond me.

As an aside, 2002 was a great time to be getting into EC. Normally my timing is terrible when discovering new artists--like I'll buy up all their albums, and then two months later they'll all get remastered with bonus tracks and sold at bargain prices. But 2002 was right near the beginning of that Rhino campaign, and I just got to soak it up for the next couple years. What a thrilling artist to discover.
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