Music and Months of 2010

Elvis Costello’s National Ransom came out this week. If I made a list of the year’s music with as many entries as months so far, NR would make that list.

Yes, NR does sprawl, across styles, and for over an hour, but I don’t object. Neither do I object to the sprawl of The Suburbs (at least not to that of the album with that title) so Arcade Fire join Elvis at the recent end of the list. So does Richard Thompson, with another hour-plus album. I posted about his Dream Attic when it came out, and it’s holding up well after many subsequent plays.

That’s 3 albums to add to the 5 I listed at 2010’s 6-month mark. Add John Grant’s Queen of Denmark, which I missed when it came out in the first half of the year, and my favorites of the year list is up to 9 after 10+ months.

Vinyl to Overtake CD

Will vinyl overtake CD in terms of music sales? It occurred to me today that it will. I was at the time reading Vinyl goes from throwback to comeback, a snappily-titled article starting on the front page of the Boston Globe.

This isn’t a prediction that vinyl will once again dominate the music industry. I just believe that its cultish appeal will hold up as the sun rapidly sets on the CD.

Strangely enough, I have recently and actively sought out CDs. But they are particular CDs: the Rhino reissues of Elvis Costello albums. Rights on the Costello catalog have passed on to Hip-O. (In the USA, that is; I don’t known about the rest of the world, the catalog being quite confusing enough in this country.) You can read about these reissues, and about Gary Stewart, who put them together, at the Rhino site and at the NY Times.

But back to my prediction that vinyl will overtake CD. Do you agree? If so, care to leave a comment with your prediction as to when it will happen?

Peace, Love, Understanding: Lost in Translation and Other Covers

I was getting out of a rather grumpy mood until I became aware that Crosby Loggins covered “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” and, like a dumb teenager in a horror movie, had to investigate. Crosby Loggins is the son of Kenny.

Young Loggins (Twiggins, as I can’t help thinking of him) murdered the song in the first week of the MTV show Rock the Cradle. He went on to win, the other finalists being Jesse Money and A’Keiba Burrell-Hammer. Perhaps they should form a trio: Twiggins MoneyHammer.

Twiggins’ is the fourth-best version of the song I have heard. (You shouldn’t have to ask how many versions I have heard). Seek it out if you must. It is described on the show’s site as an “Elvis Costello tune.” Well, in a way it is, but surely someone should have pointed out that it was written by Nick Lowe.

For second place, it’s a close thing between Nick Lowe himself and Bill Murray’s karaoke in Lost in Translation. Bill’s version is dreadful, and brilliantly so.

In first place is the great Elvis. In the video, he is such a desperate nerd that I wonder why I didn’t identify with him more closely at the time.

Reviewing and Similar Modes of Writing: Costello Connections

Elvis Costello has received a high proportion of my musical attention so far this year. One of the ensuing posts has accounted for a high proportion of this blog’s recent traffic.

I’ve read a couple of books on Costello. This post is about them, and about writing about music, and about writing about books. The first book is Elvis Costello – God’s Comic: A Critical Companion To His Lyrics & Music by David Gouldstone. It’s an update of the same author’s A Man Out of Time. The main difference is that God’s Comic has a chapter on the 1989 album Spike.

Although I enjoyed the extra chapter, and agree with Gouldstone that Spike is among Costello’s best albums, I think that A Man Out of Time is a more coherent book, focusing as it does on Costello’s first decade. The inclusion of good material that reduces the coherence of the whole is appropriate in a book about Costello, especially when the material relates to the sprawl that is Spike.

Writing about music is notoriously difficult. The music blog Dancing About Architecture quotes Costello himself as stating that: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture… it’s a really stupid thing to want to do.” Let’s not get into tracing the history of that quote, otherwise we’ll never get back to the books.

I think that Gouldstone does a pretty good job in giving his take on Costello’s music and, especially, lyrics, without claiming that his are the last words or the only right words. The writing in God’s Comic is analytical without being heavy.

In that, it contrasts with the writing of the second book: Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition. Consider the following sentence.

He [Costello] readily models existing musical, literary, or cinematic techniques in service of his songs, and in so doing, enhances his lifework’s sonic diversity.

I couldn’t get through even the part of the book on Costello, let alone the rest of it (even though Joni Mitchell also interests me).

At this point, I think that I should bump the thoughts on reviewing books into its own post, and close by remarking that I have high hopes for another book on Costello. It’s Graeme Thomson’s Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello, which will probably be part of my next Amazon order.

Momofuku de Mayo

Yes, it’s Momofuku day for those Elvis Costello fans who don’t own a turntable. By the way, I suspect that many of us in that category wish we still did own a turntable.

I’m on my second listen to the album right now. The first was via Rhapsody at work, through PC speakers. The current listen is at home, streaming from Lost Highway Records and coming out through semi-real speakers. On the basis of those listens, and some earlier listens to other versions of Momofuku tracks, I’m pleased.

I’m not sure how long the album will stream from the record label’s site. I thank Stereogum for telling me about the stream. By the way, it was at another post at the same site that I saw the wonderful quote from the wonderfully quotable Lou Reed: I can’t wear the sunglasses now because I’d fall over a cable.

Musical Understatements

Early-ish leaders in the “least appropriate album title of the year” stakes are The Last Shadow Puppets: Alex Turner (of the Arctic Monkeys) and Miles Kane. The album from those two 20somethings, The Age Of The Understatement, is anything but understated, with dramatic melodies and sweeping strings harking back to the 1960s.

The CD comes out on May 6, but Understatement is already out: legally, as well as through the channels you might be thinking about. It’s on Rhapsody early. While the CD format isn’t dead yet, it is steadily becoming less important. For further evidence, consider another album already out before its CD release…

My post about the new Elvis Costello album, Momofuku, is proving a lot more popular than I expected. This suggests to me that Elvis’ approach of recording the album stealthily, then getting it out in a format most people can’t use (vinyl) before it comes out in any digital form, has aroused curiosity.

Here’s a different kind of understatement from Elvis Costello: his version of “My Funny Valentine.” The version is older than either of the Shadow Puppets. The song is even older than Elvis.

Elvis Costello: Momofuku Release

Elvis Costello has a new record out, and I do mean record. Well, actually, I mean a double album, as in two black vinyl discs. That in spite of the fact that the album consists of 12 tracks, which is fewer than we usually get on an Elvis album.

Momofuku won’t be out on CD until May 6 (US). I hope that it’ll be available as an MP3 download, and for streaming from music subscription services, on the same date. Those who have the vinyl also have a code to download Momofuku.

I’m surprised that there don’t seem to be many reviews on the web yet. But there is a very good review by Allan Raible at ABC news blogs. It’s good in the sense that it captures the sheer vinyl specialness of the release.

Until yesterday, I hadn’t bought any new vinyl in probably 20 years… I’d forgotten how glorious records truly are. Sure, they are big and clunky, but as I first gazed at the immense “Momofuku” in all its purple-y goodness, I was awe-struck…

[Glowing review of side one]

Now it is time to take a breather and turn the record over. People used to have to do this all the time.

Talking of glowing, the review is also good in the sense that it’s highly favorable. “It’s a clear five star example of a legend adding to his stack of classics.”

I said goodbye to my turntable years ago, so I’ll have to wait for May 6. Or maybe May 1, when downloaded MP3s will start to appear. I’m surprised that I haven’t stumbled across MP3s created from the vinyl yet. I’m also surprised that I haven’t seen more comments on the release sequence: analog first, then digital, with CD not even being the first digital release.

By the way, May 6 is also the release date for The Last Shadow Puppets’ album. If there is an heir to Elvis Costello, it may turn out to be Alex Turner. But that’s a big if, so early in the career of someone who wasn’t even born when Elvis advised us to Get Happy.

Robert Wyatt

Recent delvings into early Elvis Costello have led me to Robert Wyatt‘s version of Costello’s “Shipbuilding,” and to Comicopera, Robert’s acclaimed album from last year. On first listen to the latter, I am amazed, and in a very good way.

But here’s “Shipbuilding,” which sounds as great to me now as it did in 1982.

Thanks to Cromacom for making the photo available.