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  1. By his second album EC had found himself his own band and a new record company. During 1977 Costello’s manager and Stiff Records co-owner, Jake Riviera, departed the label due to a dispute with co-founder Dave Robinson. Due to the terms of their management agreement Costello left Stiff and moved to Radar Records.

    His new band were The Attractions who in time proved to be a formidable backing band. Bassist Bruce Thomas had previously played with Quiver (of Sutherland Brothers & fame), drummer Pete Thomas had made an album with pub rockers Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers while classically trained keyboard man Steve Nieve had never played with a rock band before. Formidable or not they didn’t yet have enough clout to get themselves a credit on the sleeve, but they’re there on the label. The sleeve itself says much about the contents, Elvis as the “Cool Jerk” (as The Capitals would have it) seriously peering out from behind the camera ready to capture all your foibles and guilt and lyricise them all.

    “This Years Model” is much more in the New Wave mode than its predecessor, due to The Attractions in the main. The sound they create is much more of the times, vaguely 60’s sounding but more upfront than the first album, in particular Nieve’s wheezy Organ sound. The subject matter is much as it was on “My Aim Is True”, “revenge and guilt”, as EC described it in an interview with Nick Kent, with a sprinkling of railing at fascists. It jumps in with both feet from the off in “No Action” with “I don't wanna kiss you. I don't wanna touch, I don't wanna see you 'cause I don't miss you that much“, nothing too ambiguous there ! 

    And then…and then I thought what am I doing here ? I don’t think I’ve ever looked to Elvis Costello for big statements or answers, even though some might tell you they are here. I think I’ve always looked to him for great songs, great melodies, great performances, great recordings. I don’t think I’ve ever pored over Costello’s lyrics like I have over Weller’s or Joe Strummers or Jason Isbell’s or many others but he does write great ones. What I want from Elvis Costello & The Attractions is great records and this is a bloody great record. In sound and in songs (“Pump it Up”, “(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea”, “Lipstick Vogue”, “Night Rally” are all superb) they hit a button that works for me and sometimes you don’t need to dig any deeper than that…I just like this, OK ?

    Lipstick Vogue - https://youtu.be/J3sqZUMgcX4

  2. It’s July 1977 and we’ve been eating up furious singles by the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, The Adverts yadda yadda…when along comes this bespectacled, puny lookin’ fella with an album packed full o’ great, great songs, ballads even. It’s not Punk Rock, maybe we can call it New Wave but bloody hell, whatever it is, it’s good.

    Elvis Costello (or Declan MacManus) had been writing, making demo’s and playing in pubs since the early 70’s. During 1976 radio DJ Charlie Gillett played songs from one of EC’s demos on his show which caught the attention of record companies and he eventually made an agreement with Stiff Records. “My Aim Is True” was recorded during six four hour sessions produced by former Brinsley Schwarz frontman Nick Lowe. The studio was an 8-track facility that Costello likened to being the size of a telephone box. As Costello did not have a band the musicians used were Clover, an American country rock band who went uncredited (trivia time, Clover would later add singer Huey Louis and both singer and band would eventually change their names to become Huey Lewis & The News).

    At its heart “My Aim Is True” is a pub rock record, more in line with the Brinsley’s, Eddie & The Hot Rods and Dire Straits than the Punk Rock of the time. But the album and singer had a look about it that appealed to those of us looking for something new to call our own. And it was on Stiff Records where The Damned and The Adverts had started out so it must be ours, right ?

    There are 3 keys songs on “My Aim Is True”, firstly “Alison” from where the album gets its title so I guess that expresses something of its importance. It’s a stunning ballad about watching the object of your desire (your ex ?) from afar while quietly professing your undying devotion, it’s gorgeous. EC said of it in 2015

    "I've always told people that I wrote the song 'Alison' after seeing a beautiful checkout girl at the local supermarket. She had a face for which a ship might have once been named. Scoundrels might once have fought mist-swathed duels to defend her honour … All that were left would soon be squandered to a ruffian who told her convenient lies and trapped her still further"

    Over on side 2 we kick off with the first thing I ever heard of Elvis’s. “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” is a Byrdsian marvel, all tumbling, jingley guitar riffs allegedly written in 10 minutes on a train journey ! And finally his first single for Stiff was “Less Than Zero” a rant at Poundshop fascist Oswald Moseley. 

    EC in tandem with the Attractions would go onto make better records than “My Aim Is True” and he become one of the worlds great songwriters, but if you’ve got to look back on your first step you’d be bloody chuffed with this. 

    (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes - https://youtu.be/pS8oaMFsBEk

  3. The Teardrops (we’ll get to them presently) had split up amongst drug fuelled Jeep racing, shotgun chases around the Monmouthshire countryside and a disastrous final tour in 1983. By 1984 Julian Cope had put together his debut solo album “World Shut Your Mouth”. For those that perhaps only know Cope from the single of the same name I’ll get this out of the way up front, the single “World Shut Your Mouth” is not on the album “World Shut Your Mouth”, it’s actually on the album “St Julian” from 3 years after the album “World Shut Your Mouth”, hope that’s clear.

    Following the Teardrops breakup Cope retreated back to his childhood home near Tamworth in Staffordshire where he wrote songs, expanded his toy collection and recovered from the bands split plus (some say) his prodigious LSD intake. A couple of the songs here were originally intended for the Teardrop Explodes (versions of "Metranil Vavin" and "Pussyface" later appeared on their “lost” 3rd album “Everyone Wants To Shag The Teardrop Explodes”). 

    While retaining his former bands pop touches “World Shut Your Mouth” reveals more of Cope’s influences from 60’s psychedelia and pastoral pop music, Syd Barrett and Roky Erikson haunt the dimly lit corners hereabouts. It was VERY out of step with the prevailing sound of 1984 which was predominantly synth and drum machine driven. This was a natural sounding record with guitars and real drums (played by Teardrops drummer Gary Dwyer) and instruments like Oboe and Sitar thrown in to the mix. The pop sense is still there it’s just been twisted.

    Opener “Bandy’s First Jump” would have sat well on a Teardrops record, it’s second song “Metranil Vavin” (originally written for his former band, it’s a about a fictional Russian Dwarf poet named Metro Vavin !) where the psychedelia starts to show. This segues into “Strasbourg” which is quickly followed by the Oboe driven “Elegant Chaos” two of Cope’s very best songs. “Quizmaster” is another Oboe driven pop beast and side 1 plays out with “Kolly Kibber’s Birthday” (Kolley Kibber being a character in Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock” trivia fans) a driving, harsh drum driven thing with an angelic vocal.

    The singles are over on Side 2, ”Sunshine Playroom” and “Greatness And Perfection” are both beauties that the “great” record buying public chose to ignore. “Head Hung Low” brings down the pace with Kate St John’s Oboe up front again and “Pussyface” funks things up some. It all comes to a close with “Lunatic And Fire-Pistol” a gentle lament from a man who died in battle…possibly ?

    It didn’t sell and this period, including the follow up album “Fried” (where Cope is pictured on the cover hiding under a giant tortoise shell), is where he picked up his reputation for eccentricity and being something of an acid casualty. It’s a great shame that it didn’t sell as it’s a superb, what came to be known as, Indie pop/rock album, the equal of (actually way better than) anything produced around this time by the likes of The Smiths. 

    Strasbourg - https://youtu.be/3h2xmiVsmEY