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October 18, 1980 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1980-10-18

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The Michigqn Daily

Saturday, October 18, 1980



Okay, if Elvis is, as I suspect, the
greatest creator of Poptunes (riffwise,
anyway) since John Fogerty was back
in the days of greener rivers and sim-
pler times, why can't he make it as a
popular success, specifically on the
A few possible reasons: First of all, it
must have been Elvis that Hobbes was
thinking of when he described man as
short, nasty and brutish. The fellow is
simply a bothersome wimp, and a
paranoid one at that. Although people
do enjoy seeing their problems justified
by their heroes' similar experiences,
they do not want to hear the constant
lamentations of a spiteful, pitiful
misogyist. Most casual listeners would
rather try to deny their troubles by
burying them behind the sheild of their:
favorite comic-book hero (i.e. Ted
Nugent, Jackson Browne, Jerry Gar-
cia; name your fantasy),'than to put up
with an ugly, unglamorous pest such as
Elvis. You see, he offers no cookbook
solutions to his problems; therefore
there is no cathartic release for his
listeners, only a vicious (if feeble)
assault upon just about everything.
Elvis Costello is not the stuff from
which dreams are made.

odds and ends ac

louder than mere words (ask Bonnie
Bramlett), but I have always thought
that music speaks even louder than ac-
tion. Which is why I'm surprised that
Elvis is so disliked, for he happens to
write incredible melodies. His songs
are consistently fun, danceable, perky,
interesting, and generally impeccable.
Which brings us to his latest, Taking
Liberties, in which the good, generous
people over at Columbia present us
with 20 (count 'em) more great Elvis
tunes. This is obviously a promotional
ploy, right from the outdated company
hype on the cover ("In this rockin' new
album, Elvis proves himseld the most
versatile singer-entertainer of the
day.. . ") to the selection of songs,
composed almost exclusively of cuts
previously released on B-sides, British
albums, EP's, etc. At $4.99, Taking
Liberties is sweet revenge for those of
us that have always envied the fans who
had enough money to buy all those ex-
pensive imports.
The fact that this isn't a cohesive
album, per se, isn't a rip-off, as it would
be with other artists, for Elvis' songs
are so great separately that they don't
have to be tied together by anything
resembling a "theme". I have no idea
what most of these songs "mean"
(those friends of mine are still working
on Get Happy), but I love Taking Liber-
ties all the same. Costello's incredible
versatility is fully revealed here, as he
touches upon most every conceivable
musical form available in the rock
idiom, and even one that isn't, Rogers
and Hart's "My Funny Valentine".(For
those of you too young to remember,
they were a Turkish folksinging duo
who had a world-wide smash with
"valentine" in 1962). Elvis' sheer guts
in covering this song (successfully, I
might add) shows us that perhaps he
has the potential to do far more than he
was ever given credit for. On Taking
Liberties, that potential is, for the first
time, creatively untapped.
PARTICULARLY impressive here is
Costello's mastery of the ballad. He
consistently proves that he can adapt
his venom to a drawn-out diatribe, and
some of these ballads are among the
best songs on the album. Elvis also tries
his hand at R and B (Van McCoy's
"Getting Mighty Crowded" is evidence
that Costello knows his roots, no matter

what he thinks of Ray Charles), the
British invasion ("Tiny Steps" is,
reminiscent of the Turtles or Animals
with a touch of Dylanesque organ), and,
on perhaps the most enjoyable cut,
"Radio Sweetheart", Elvis actually
makes good on the challenge of coun-
try-rock. This tune so strongly evokes
the Gram Parsons inspired Byrds at
their best, it's surprising that it wasn't
called "Sweetheart of the Radio". And
similar success on "Stranger in the
House" proves that it's no fluke. Of
course, there are also the typical (but
unique) rockers, including such paten-
ted gems as "Talking in the Dark",
"Night Rally", and "I Don't Want to go
to Chelsea", the latter perhaps the
finest thing Costello has ever put on
vinyl. But the important thing here is
that Costello is able to carry his genius
to other forms' with just as much
credibility and spunk as he does on his
standard pieces.

Id up
There has recently been a backlash
among critics who complain that
Costello is boring them, because his
songs "all around the same", which I
don't really understand, much less
agree wth. Taking Liberties, with its
multitude of styles and forms, proves
them wrong beyond a doubt. Perhaps
what they really mean is that his songs
are not very memorable or individually
earth-shattering, which might be un-
derstandable considering the plethora
of tunes that have been thrown at us by
Costello in the three short years that he
has been with us. Elvis is nothing if not
prolific. But even if his lack of
originality and staying power did exist
(and it doesn't necessarily; I find
myself singing these songs to myself
constantly, even if I don't remember
their names or places), well, so what?
Granted, they won't change your life,
but they will make it a lot more fun.
And what's wrong with that?

Two Marthas

-with -atr
Ihe list of bands which seem to have
influenced Martha and the Muffins is
long, but in some ways the comparisons
are circumstantial. For instance, the
lead singer of the band is a woman
riamed Martha Johnson. I'm sure we
are all tired of articles concerning the
reemergence of women in rock, but
there is more than one song on Metro
Music which is reminiscent of the
Pretenders. "Paint-by-Number Heart"
and "Monotone" both feature a punchy
beat and barbed-wire rhythm guitar
work, but Johnson lacks the vocal
range and dynamism of Chrissie Hyn-
4 Other songs, "Revenge (Against the
World)" and "Terminal Twilight" have
a Gang of Four-style instrumentation,
charged-up and scaled-down at the
same time. I don't want to push these
parallels excessively far, and indeed
the Muffins may not even have been
well acquainted with these bands when
they recorded Metro Music in London in
August 1979. The band is Canadian, not
British, and has been together since 1976.
; THE MOST definite influence on
Martha and the Muffins is Roxy Music,
and this goes beyond the surface
similarity that both feature excellent
sax players. Muffin Andy Haas, I dare
say, rivals Andy Mackay of Roxy, if not
for technical achievements, at least for
the solid integration with and influen-
ce on the sound of the band as a whole.
As if the coincidences will never end,
,Martha and the Muffins did in fact open
for Roxy on their British tour last
The songs on Metro Music were writ-
ten, in whole or collaboratively, by
guitarist Mark Gane and
vocalists/keyboardists Martha Johnson
and Martha Ladly. This set-up varies
the tone but little of the outlook of the
songs, primarily that of a bored and
beaten city dweller who yearns to break
* :free of the life and lovers which trap
'her. The persona, voice of. whatever is
'definitely that of romantic, but it avoids
the sticky-sweet, prefabricated roman-
ticism which plagues many pop-
oriented groups. It emerges in the very
first song on the album, "Echo Beach",

n essage,
and continues almost non-stop until the
second from last, with a few tales of
nightmares and dead-end love affairs in
between. But the urbanite never really
does break free. Martha Johnson's
voice is so genteel and vulnerable, even
on the obligatory "mean'' song,
"Revenge (Against the World)", that it
seems like she'll always be trapped. As
she laments at one point, "I wish that I
could be decisive, then I'd understand
where life is going for me.".
Related to this trapped feeling is a
sense of timelessness which the songs
convey, through repetition and
lackluster bass and drums. In
"Saigon", "a place where time does not
exist", the tune, although full of catchy
hooks, never breaks free of itself or
changes in any way. What I would like
to think of as "understated" music,
especially in respect of the keyboards,
toys with out minds a bit, and makes us
expectant for more than they players
will let us have.
The musicians are all quite com-
petent. They are so comfortable with
each other that they can play in almost
any construction with seeming ease,
from catchy hooks to droning space-
"mood" music to improvisation. Wor-
thy of special mention are guitarist
Mark Gane and soxophonist Andy
Haas. I find Gane's rhythms much
more interesting than they keyboards
of the two Marthas, and when he
gets a chance to solo, he real-
ly shines. Haas' saxophone
careens and soars through most of the
songs, giving the sometimes straight-
jacketed music a free-riding soul.
I still don't know why I like this
album: Usually a "message in the
music" format turns me off. But Mar-
tha and the Muffins never sound preten-
tious in their lyrics or their music; they
take their message seriously, but not at
the expense of liveliness and fun (wit-
ness the best song on the slbum,
"Cheesies and Gum"). The band also
has some great hooks that are
irresistable and choruses that are great
sing-a-longs. I never liked to think of
myself as a romantic fool, but "Echo
Beach" and Metro Music are doing
their best to convert me.

A SECOND REASON for his un-
popularity is that his words are all but
indistinguishable. Most people simple
refuse to listen to anything without a
handy lyric sheet, or a vocalist that
sounds like one. Which is really a
shame, because Elvis is the wittiest
lyicist since the death of Dylan. I know
because I have crazy friends who spend
all their time deciplering and recording
Elvis' words, and the finished product
is alwaysgood for weeks of analysis
and laughter. But even 'if the lyrics
could be uncoded upon first listening,
they still might not appeal to the
masses, because of their subtle am-
biguity. It is a sad fact of life that
people would rather listen to straight-
forward sexual boasts (see Aerosmith)
than to bother with brilliant satire and
(relatively) complex metophors. Un-
fortunately, Doug Feiger's sexist com-
plaints about the frustration that occurs
when one does not have a girl to sit on
one's face are far more popular than
EC's witticisms, which dig deeper into
male/female relationships, which are,
thank God, more complicated than the
Knack is willing to admit, or even
Now, I know that action speaks

T7e n'vers'ty of M :'ga3


I awakenin~g
by Frank Wedekind
Ct. 2-25,8pm
Oct.26, 2pm
In the Power Center
Tickets at P.T P. Call 764-0450
MasterCharge and Visa accepted




---7 -- - - - -


Rated PG
12:00 Mid.

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