Turn That Noise Down - Elvis Costello

So many well-known albums turn 30 this year and Steve Taylor-Bryant and Susan Omand travel back to 1989 to revisit some of the sounds of their youth that made parents shout "Turn that noise down!" This week, Steve discovers Elvis Costello's album Spike...

I’m not as familiar with Elvis Costello as most of you, he wasn’t part of my parents music collection which made up most of childhood listening and by the time I was older I pretty much stuck to what I knew (Billy Joel and Guns n Roses does not an education make - Ed). The beautiful thing about the Turn That Noise Down project though is that reviewing albums that are thirty years old I am bound to come across something that to me is new, Spike is one of those albums.

Spike is a patchwork blanket of an album, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s impossible to put into any labelled genre, it sounds different in style from track to track and after a complete listen through before I made one review note I have to say I think I just experienced sheer genius, or sheer lunacy and the fact I can’t nail down which pleases me so much. Rasping brass and an almost military snare on the beautiful Deep Dark Truthful Mirror are as opposed to the almost medieval sounds on Tramp the Dirt Down as can be. But lyrically the entire album seems essential, it’s an innovative look deep within Elvis as a songwriter, it’s a mature look at life, it’s also teenage angst playing out cleverly. The lyrics in Tramp the Dirt Down read like they belong in a punk tune or a highly charged political statement but Costello gets his views on Margaret Thatcher across in a restrained grown up way which just elevates the song to one of the best protest tunes I think I’ve ever heard.

Veronica, written with Paul McCartney was the only song I’d heard before and is a great slice of late ‘80s pop rock albeit about a nursing home resident, again opposed in style to the Derek Bentley song Let Him Dangle, a fantastic look at capital punishment in the UK. God’s Comic with its brushwork drums is just stunning to listen to whilst lyrically quite sad and reflective. Miss Macbeth is dramatic in both it’s musical sound and lyric delivery, Coal-Train Robberies is funky, Pads, Paws and Claws is just mental and I can’t believe McCartney had a huge part in its creation.

Spike may not be the introduction to Elvis Costello that my friends may have chosen for me but I’m so glad it was first experience. I now know what Costello is capable of lyrically and musically and he has set the bar high for me in terms of listening to his back catalogue. What an enjoyable day I’ve just had working my through this incredible collection.

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