Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cover version of the day

"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", by The Costello Show.

One artist who is heavily represented on my vinyl shelves is Elvis Costello. "King Of America" is the last album of his that I bought in that format. At the time, I thought it was the "Stunning Return To Form" album, after the (I thought at the time) misstep of "Punch The Clock" (I revisited that album recently; it holds up surprisingly well) and the abject debacle that was "Goodbye Cruel World" (I think I was right about that one).

"King Of America" is an interesting record, but on reflection it is quite patchy, suffers as a lot of his later records do from bloat, and misses The Attractions (who only play on one song). The latter omission is pretty obviously intentional: you will look in vain for the name "Elvis Costello" on the album. This, I am guessing, is also a kind of conceptual con job: Costello, who, presumably in a moment of "punk rock" enthusiasm, took the name (in vain) of the "King" (see what he did there?) as an act of (presumably) rebellion rather than reverence, must have jumped at the chance to make an album with people better known for their work with the other Elvis. Perhaps he found it awkward, in those circumstances, to put the word "Elvis" on it; perhaps he wanted to distance his other self from the record (although if the latter, why put his instantly recognisable visage across 100 percent of the front cover? -- speaking of which, if you take away the hat and the Coke-bottle glasses, doesn't he look hipster a quarter of a century before the fact?).

We may never know. It is nevertheless an enjoyable, if overstuffed, record to listen to. But the song that stands out isn't even an Elvis Costello song. He takes "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", a song originally written for Nina Simone but made famous by Santa Esmeralda during the disco era (the version given a further lease of life by Quentin Tarantino), and turns it into a brooding and malevolent smoulder. A sneer is never that far from Costello's singing voice (which is why, when he eschews it, for example in "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No 4" or "The World And His Wife", it is so surprising, and life-affirming), and the faintest hint of one appears here, to great, if slightly terrifying, effect.