Liner Notes

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Elvis Costello And The Attractions // This Year's Model

Released in 1978
MoFi Original Master Recording #025234
180G Black
Favorite Track:
Then: "Lipstick Vogue" 
Now: "Lipstick Vogue"

Let me start by saying I hate my version of this record. The UK versions include "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" which is easily in my top three songs Elvis Costello and The Attractions ever penned. I went full nerd mode and wanted the 180G original master blah blah blah, but didn't assume  it would omit one of my favorite tracks. So suffice it to say the version of this record I fell in love with was purchased at Recycled Records in Reno, NV, for less than $10 and is VG - at best. It turns out that good songwriting is vastly more important than fidelity. That said, this record sounds fucking incredible.

I've made a long-overdue upgrade to my system in the form of a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB in piano black. It feels like the bass drum got its own speaker. It's wild. Like dating an ex after a prolonged period; new and familiar at the same time. My longtime roommate and best friend, Tim, used to give me shit about my AV obsession. I've ruined no less than a dozen movies tweaking the frequency crossover of subwoofers mid-movie. He's caught me at home with a calibration disc more times than he's caught me with a girl. He always used to give me shit about the money, time, and mental real-estate I'd spend perseverating over tiny audio details.

One day I'm in my room and Tim Kramer's through my door. "Fine! You're right. You're fucking right," he begrudgingly exclaims.

I have no idea what he's talking about.

As I sit here in the perfect equilateral triangle between my tower speakers listening to this record after having gingerly applied a forty year-old Discwasher brush, I realize I should have known what he was talking about. He continues, "I was listening to This Year's Model on my record player and it's not even the same record as when we listen on your setup. It's not even the same fucking record. You're going to ruin me." Not the first person to utter those words to me. He would go on to bemoan watching The West Wing anywhere other than our living room on a once-coveted 40" Sony Trinitron XBR, my holy grail of televisions.
Let me be clear: I don't really care about hi-fi systems. The point of great equipment is to get out of the way. It should be invisible. It should be a conduit for the art. You should forget the apparatus and get lost in Bruce Thomas' musical and innovative bass lines. Speak of the devil, "Lipstick Vogue" just came on. His contributions cannot be overstated. I'm geeking out so hard right now. I stopped writing until the song ended. Trading "Chelsea" for "Radio Radio" is so American.

Elvis Costello has me thinking about solo artists. I am of the opinion that his best work was with The Attractions and I am not particularly interested in his solo career. Here's where I get real American Psycho. Outside of a handful, and I do stress the numerically quantifiable handful of five, most solo artists produced more consistent and more interesting art in the context of their respective bands.

Some qualifiers: I play bass. Am I biased against virtuosic songwriters who think they don't need their supporting band? A fair query, but I submit a band provides something essential to our warrior-poet troubadours. Let's operate under the assumption they are all artists of singular talent and vision. Even if they write every song, lyric, and time change, having someone you've worked with for years whose sole job is to think about laying down the perfect details to your magnum opus can't hurt. So unless you're the Stanley Kubrick of rock 'n' roll, sit down, Bitch. Be humble. Respect the rhythm section.

I was whining about this to someone who's both profoundly important to me and who possesses impeccable music taste (they often go hand in hand) who responded with a pragmatic response: life gets in the way. Perhaps the artist wished to continue working with their band, but maybe some members aren't as dedicated, perhaps they wanted to start a family, or tour less. Would I prefer to not have any music from them at all? Of course not.

People should make art until the last shovel of dirt covers their casket. Elvis Costello is still playing music. And that's a miracle which should be shouted from the rooftops. We are lucky to have him in any capacity still making music. He's a gift for the ages. And his solo stuff is solid, certainly worthy of positivity and praise. But for a series of records in the late 70s and early 80s, he and The Attractions made magic. They produced unicorns.

And those are the records I'll never forget.

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