I have strong negative emotions toward the music of Elvis Costello

EC has, it seems, always been a darling of rock critics, and Lord of Allmusic Stephen Thomas Erlelwine is gaga about him too.

I was born in 1971 and was buying music in EC’s heyday. I didn’t hate him then; he just wasn’t on my radar at all. It’s more in recent times that I’ve asked myself, “Have I missed anything?” I knew a few of his more popular songs, and I will say that I like the song “Alison” pretty darn well. Other songs never grabbed me, and my music-loving friends never tried to sell me on him (one ex-gf did, and I listened to “Alison” and a couple other tunes and didn’t form a strong opinion).

Let me preface my reasons by saying my dislike of EC is contextual. If I had just his first album “My Aim Is True” with “Alison” on it, and let’s say further that he had done nothing else and never became so “big” (at least among a certain type of listeners), then I probably would think, “Interesting album; too bad he didn’t do more.” It’s because he’s done so much that doesn’t work for me and earned such praise for it that I find myself pushing back. Anyhow,

The reasons why I strongly dislike Elvis Costello

• Bad voice in anything but small doses, and he always sings the same. He’s really annoying, basically. His vocal inflections are distinctive but highly repetitive, so it’s not just a neutrally monotonous voice; rather, it’s a monotonous voice that’s always begging for attention in specific ways. Frankly, a lot of the time it’s just fucking intolerable.

• I get a lot of ego from the guy. In contrast to his namesake (?) Elvis Presley, who always seemed to merge with the narrator of the song and put none of his own ego into a tune, I always feel the gears turning with EC. He’s thinking he’s this badass creator of great tunes, and that always comes through in the lyrics, the vocals, everything.

• The songs themselves just aren’t distinctive–or good. This is where I understand the critical acclaim the least. The aforementioned Mr. Erlewine is saying, This album is punk! This album is blue-eyed soul! This album is pop! Sure, I get that the production varies a little (not a lot), but the mechanics of the tunes always seem the same, cut from the same cloth. It’s repetitious cloth. It’s boring cloth.

• Negative yet petty lyrics. Mr. Erlewine refers to EC as “nasty”–and this is a good thing? I love a good “negative” tune by, say, the Smiths, Joy Division, Soundgarden… Those songs attain depth and are cathartic. But with EC, it just sounds like his personal misanthropic bitching. He seems to take himself a bit seriously, too.

That’s about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Also, one thing that’s hard to find via Google is negative analyses of things. You can type in “Elvis Costello sucks” and not find too much. So if you know of any good online articles that are contra EC, please link me up.


Me too. His music in ugly in both form and content. He looks repulsive. And he stole Elvis’ name.
I’ll never understand how he snagged such a hot wife.

I found this interesting link:


If I don’t like a band it usually manifests as indifference or even mocking contempt. But Costello makes me quite angry. It’s uncanny.

He was the executive producer on the Pogues album If I Should Fall from Grace with God, and is, therefore, just slightly less holy than Jesus himself.

I’ve seen him in concert several times, like his songwriting and find him an interesting and entertaining host on his show Spectacle.

The only thing I object to is - who the hell told him he could croon? The soundtrack of the movie Grace of My Heart is ruined by:

[li]Not having the version of the title track with Kirsten Vigard’s lead vocal[/li][li]Instead having Elvis’ dreadful lead vocal[/li][/ol]

I like Elvis Costello but don’t have enough time or energy to explain why.

He fit into a nice punk/new wave niche at the time and wasn’t an asshole.

I was in college when EC’s first album came out. I loved it. Not because he could sing (he really can’t) but because his lyrics and musical structures were very complex, compelling, and fascinating.

His next five or six albums just got better and better. I usually disliked them on first listen, liked them a bit on second listen, and LOVED them by fifth or sixth listen.

After that, he totally lost me. Another four or five albums and I stopped buying them. I don’t know if he changed, I changed, or I just got tired of his shtick.

Either way, I think he is very talented and has a unique style, which you either get or don’t. But his strength is in cleverness of both music and lyrics, not in performing. And I say this as someone who has seen him in concert three times (I give up slowly).

Now that we have that out of the way… :slight_smile:

Although his lyrics don’t do anything for me, I can understand the appeal of someone putting, as he does, care, effort, and brainpower into lyrics. EC never seems stupid, but his lyrics do seem narcissistic and inward-turning to me.

As for the music being complex… I do understand that he uses a bunch of chords (or so Nick Lowe said in an interview I was reading), but the complexity doesn’t come through for me–it all sounds rather washed out and the same. I think part of that is due to the vocals, however.

BTW, I just tried to watch/listen to the video for “Everyday I Write the Book,” and I just couldn’t. Watch. Or listen. Just horrifying.

I was a huge fan when he first hit, going to any show in the Bay Area I could. His first shows at Winterland were short but very sweet…I still remember Bruce Thomas banging his bass against his amp…what a sound! I saw back to back performances of the first Spinning Songbook tour and they were just fantastic. I kind of lost track of him after that, not because I didn’t like the music, but more because I was interested in other bands.

His interview show Spectacle was pretty great, and anyone who can get Diana Krall to marry them has to have something on the ball.

He did call Ray Charles a blind ignorant n****r. I think he was drinking at the time with Stephen Stills, whom he didn’t like, and was trying to get his goat.

But yeah, just how did he get to marry Diana Krall?

His singing is certainly distinctive, that’s for sure. I like his singing, but I do understand the reaction. He does not have a typical lead singer’s voice.

Love Elvis, at least the first part of his career. Awesome combination of anger, intelligence, and song craft. So smart, but without pretension. In fact, he despised pretension, or so I surmised. Created songs that were catchy (I don’t think he’d bristle at this, not someone who loves the Beatles as much as he does) and interesting. Just great chords.

But for me, his glory days were a streak of a few years, after which he remained intelligent and took risks. But he became, I don’t know, more professorial, more town elder than dangerous. I lost interest. Occasionally I’d hear the odd tune here or there, but I didn’t seek them out like I did before. He was a person of respect but not relevance, not of the type he achieved in his heyday.

My band used to cover “Alison,” “Oliver’s Army,” “(What’s So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” and “Pump It Up.” We f@#$ed around with “I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea” and a few others. Elvis was awesome for a stretch.

WordMan, where are you? I have to believe you’re a fan. We need some more Elvis love in here.

This sums Elvis up, from my perspective, perfectly.

I don’t know shit from Shinola about chords. When I said his music was complex, I meant the melodic structures. He rarely followed a simple four-line sing-songy structure, but more of a meandering, hard to grasp pattern. If there was a pattern at all.

Also loved his wordplay. He had one thing he liked to do a lot: he’d find a word with two different meanings, one of which was usually used as part of a pair with another word. Then he’d use that word pair, but use the dual-meaning word in its other meaning. Some examples from memory, although I’m sure there were others:

“I step on the brakes to get out of your clutches.”

“Now daddy’s keepin’ mum…”

He did a couple of pretty good songs (though I prefer the Hot Rats’ version of “Pump It Up”).

As for Costello’s status as a supposedly legendary artist, I get the feeling that he’s highly regarded by intellectuals who disdain rock n’ roll.

Too funny Strat-man - I was traveling for the holidays and got in at 2am. As I was connecting my iPad for charging before I crashed, I saw this thread and thought hmm, gotta get back to that.

I agree with pretty much all you’ve said - jeez in the 80’s he was great, alongside other thoughtful “New Wave” songwriters like Joe Jackson, Squeeze’ Difford and Tilbrook and others. How can you listen to Pump It Up and Watching the Detectives and not love them? His first few albums up to about Blue or Imperial Bedroom are wonderful stuff

But yeah, he became the elder statesmen, working with that string quartet, Sir Paul and a number of others - hey, nice work if you can get it. But in music circles, yeah, very well respected and thought of as someone who really knows his craft.

As for his voice - well, it’s kind of like Sting’s - distinct sounding with a weird timbre, but in a rock/pop (I.e not opera) context, it’s well trained. Great vibrato, ease hitting the notes. It took me a few years to really listen to his vocal mechanics be he’s actually a very good singer - but I get why folks may still not want to listen to it.

I struggled with his attitude at various times - his faux pas statements about Ray Charles at the beginning of his travels in the USA damned him for a while - but marriage seems to have mellowed him. He’s a huge gear geek, with very pricey vintage guitars and amps - when I see him playing, he rotates through some amazing gear.

So - love his early stuff; he seems to have down-shifted comfortably over the past 25 years to be a songwriting elder statesman whose reputation-defining work is long behind him, but he’s got a beautiful wife and kids so more power to him.

This is one of the most remarkable stretches of output you’ll ever see from an artist, both in terms of creativity and diversity:

1977 My Aim Is True
1978 This Year’s Model
1979 Armed Forces
1980 Get Happy!!
1981 Trust
1982 Imperial Bedroom
1986 King of America

The melodies are distinct. And the lyrics aren’t just clever, they scan in a way that links them inextricably to the music so they stick to your brain like chewing gum:

History repeats the old conceits / The glib replies the same defeats / Keep your finger on important issues / With crocodile tears and a pocketful of tissues

If you’re familiar with those lyrics, there’s no way they didn’t invoke the entire song in your head.

Oops…heh…forgot these:

1983 Punch the Clock
1984 Goodbye Cruel World

Which in my universe were never issued.

I’ll see your Elvis Costello & raise you Warren Zevon.

Didn’t Bonnie Raitt punch him out for being an asshole?

Bonnie Bramlett.

In my experience, Elvis Costello = music for dudes with goatees who gather in coffeeshops and exchange smug know-it-all conspiracy theories about the world.
(like Frank Zappa, but even more so)