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.