First up--until the licensing agreement with UMG ends in November of 2007, the live album portion of this release IS available at iTunes (along with the new bonus tracks)at a reasonable price ($15.99)but you have to buy the whole set to get that price.
DO YOU NEED THIS ALBUM?
Absolutely but if you've bought it before and are satisfied with the Rhino release (which honestly was the best of the four versions that have been released in the last 20 plus years outside of this reissue), then you certainly could skip this and buy new music.
WHAT'S HERE THAT WASN'T BEFORE?
This edition has an entire live performance taken an appearence at the Nashville Room in 1977 plus the five track soundcheck (which only duplicates "Alison"). The original disc is augmented by the outtakes from both the Ryko and Rhino versions plus eight demos from Pathway Studios (four of which "Blue Minute", "Call On Me", "I Don't Want To Come Home" and "I Hear A Melody" are previously unreleased songs that may have been cannibalized for other songs).
If you're an EC and The Attractions fan, I'm sure that you've often wondered what "My Aim Is True" would have sounded like recorded by The Attractions. Now you can find out but if you had the "Live At El Mocambo" you had an idea.
The live album is pretty terrific with EC and the band in top form. The Pathway tracks while not as important as the album itself are interesting.
DOES THE ORIGINAL ALBUM SOUND ANY DIFFERENT?
Maybe a tad louder than the Rhino but it appears to be the exact same mastering as before (which was done by Dan Hirsch at Digiprep). Suha Gur masters the live tracks and demos new to this edition. EC and Bill Levenson supervised the compilation which means that they tried to put out a quality release.
DOES IT LOOK ANY DIFFERENT?
Yeah it's bigger but not necessarily better. It's in the "Deluxe Edition" style with the slip cover (I hate it personally but many will love it). The booklet is missing EC's notes from the previous edition on Rhino with song lyrics and photos not in the previous edition.
As sick as I am of EC reissuing his back catalog (let's see...we had Columbia, Ryko, Rhino a single disc edition of this in a Digipak and this release)with DIFFERENT tracks, the live album is great to have as are the demos. EC please, please don't do this again. Your fans have bought this one too many times and barring the discovery of tapes you made in your previous band, there's just no reason for this terrific album to be put out again and again and again and again.
CONCLUSION: Hardcore EC fans and those who have waited to upgrade their CDs (or never replaced it on vinyl and can't find it there now) will love this edition. There are different bonus tracks however between the Rhino and this edition.
My advice--go to iTunes and download the live album/new bonus tracks ONLY. At least that way you won't be springing for the whole set again. Also, the whole album is downloadable there for $15.99 for the time being much cheaper than the CD edition. While it won't be lossless quality (it'll be compressed and suffer from many of the issues that dog mp3 like releases), it'll be better than not having it.
on September 23, 2007
The first decade of Costello's catalog, everything from 1977's "My Aim is True" through 1986's "Blood & Chocolate" is on the move again. Having made stops at Columbia, Ryko and Rhino for CD reissues, Costello's first eleven albums now pit with Universal's Hip-O label for another round. Hip-O's first salvo of re-re-re-reissues included single-disc versions of the original albums that undid Rhino's second-disc bonuses, and a pair of compilations, one surveying the entire decade's output, the other pulling together many of Costello's rock-oriented tracks. Hip-O has now issued a new two-disc version of Costello's debut that includes previously unreleased material and tracks that are new-to-CD.
Many will complain that issuing "My Aim is True" on CD for a fourth time is a cynical marketing ploy aimed at luring faithful fans (those who already own vinyl and multiple CD copies) into re-buying the album. And while this may be a side-effect, it's not likely the core of marketing plan. Hip-O's goal isn't so much to re-sell this album to fans as it is to renew the title with merchants, reviewers and editors so as to entice a new generation of buyers. Gaining new shelf space and column inches for a 30-year-old release requires a bit of sizzle, which is provided by the album's bonus tracks and second disc. The margin on a rarities-only disc pushed through physical sales channels is apparently too low to be worth UMe's effort; instead, those who want only the new tracks can avail themselves of on-line download services where the set is parted out.
Recorded and originally issued amid the 1977 explosion of DIY art and angst that was punk rock, Costello's seething, literate lyrics stood above the fray. His feelings of self-loathing, confused indifference and jealous recriminations were enunciated in words rather than the raw energy of semi-professional instrument bashing, and his combination of finesse and ire was unlike anything else on the scene. But in retrospect, particularly in light of the Attractions' formation for touring and the next album, it's clear that Costello's hammer was meeting a somewhat softer anvil in the backing band of the Marin, California based Clover. The result is more a singer-songwriter effort than a true band album; as brilliant as was Costello's songwriting and singing on this LP, he was still an artist looking for his sound.
Hip-O's take on the 2-CD reissue adds a wealth of bonuses, including contemporaneous singles "Watching the Detectives" (included on the U.S. LP, but not the original UK LP), "Radio Sweetheart" (which was a B-side that also appeared on a Stiff LP sampler), and the original country weeper, "Stranger in the House" (which was delivered as a bonus single with early copies of Costello's second UK LP, and turned up in cover form on Rachel Sweet's Stiff Records debut). The heart of the bonuses are seven pre-LP demos recorded at Pathway Studios, and a seventeen-song live set recorded in Nashville in 1977 with the then newly formed Attractions.
Seven demos recorded at Pathway Studio with just Costello's vocal and electric guitar include four songs that didn't make the LP, as well as early versions of "Miracle Man," "Waiting For the End of the World" and "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes." Hearing Costello's staccato demos of the three album tracks, one can sense just how Clover altered the musical balance. And in fact, the live show on disc two gives a demonstration of how these songs could have sounded. Just a few months into their association, Costello and the Attractions punch up the material from "My Aim is True" so that it matched songs that would land on 1978's "This Year's Model." Bruce Thompson and Steve Thompson create a bottom end that was missing on the debut LP, Steve Neive's keyboards (particularly his organ playing) adds tension and filigree, and Costello's guitar is more urgent. More telling are five tracks included from the show's soundcheck in which Costello and band play with a fluidity and confidence that belies their short time together.
Collectors will find tracks available on earlier reissues by Ryko and Rhino that don't appear here, just as this set includes material not released earlier. A good number of these extras have floated around on bootlegs, but they've never sounded as good as on this official release. The live tracks from Nashville are some of the best early work in circulation, both in sound and performance, and the Pathway demos are well worth hearing. Perhaps Bear Family will offer up a mammoth box set that includes everything; until then, you have to collect it yourself. This is a worthy replacement for Rhino's previous two-disc release (though it would have been nice to have the notes Costello wrote for that issue) and a great first buy for anyone who doesn't already own the title. Those who've already purchased one of the earlier versions would still find this worthwhile, but if you can't stand the duplication, look to download services for what you're missing. 4 stars for the original LP, plus an extra star for the live show. [©2007 hyperbolium dot com]
Shortly after Elvis Costello let this 13 song tornado touch down in the US, he made the infamous comment that his thorny songs about relationships were motivated by revenge and guilt. That having been said, rarely has this much misanthropic venting been so great a joy to listen to. It wasn't just that Elvis was angry, it was that he was throwing twisted phrases into the vocabulary with seeming effortlessness.
Take some of these:
"I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused."
"Walking on the water won't make me a miracle man."
"Everything means less than zero."
And of course, "My aim is true."
That's just five songs. The astounding thing (at the time), was each song was always just as good as the one before it, if not better! During the burgeoning punk movement, most of the bands getting press were doing so less for the music than for the attention getting behavior. (Think the Sex Pistols, etc.) Despite the blatant headline grabber of his assumed name and that bizarre knock kneed mutation of Buddy Holly's look, Elvis' debut was one of musical assurance. Part of that came from the usage of Clover, the band of Californians that contained a few of Huey Lewis' eventual Newsmates, and John McFee's guitar work. It was McFee's brief guitar lick that gave "Alison" a signature introduction. While hardly the fiery backing Elvis would find once The Attractions signed on, Clover gave "My Aim Is True" a barebones framework that made the in your face immediacy of the songs explode from the album.
In 1977, this was one of the albums that changed my outlook on life. (Hey, I was 17 years old, when such things were still possible.) Of those records from that time in my life, this is one for the very few discs that stayed with me and one of the only artists to emerge with a lifetime's worth of talent. "My Aim Is True" remains a showcase for songwriters, no matter what the motivations for their pens.
on November 5, 2001
Elvis' "My Aim is True" is an amazing debut album, a marvel of simple, catchy pop song constructions and clever, sometimes scathing word play and often heartbreaking lyrical genius. This is the first step of a man who was going to become one of the greatest writers of pop songs of our time, and what a start!
The album itself is nearly perfect and this is a beautiful master, the sound is clean and sparkling as it was in 1977. With songs such as the timeless ""Allison," the white-boy skank of "Watching the Detectives" (which features some of the greatest lines ever: "She pulls his eyes out with a face like a magnet!"), "Less Than Zero," "Welcome to the Working Week": these songs alone make this a necessary album. When one considers all the goodies that come with this re-issue, you'd be mad to not buy it right now!
The Bonus disc kicks off with a great demo version of "No Action," all fuzzed-out and even more rockin' than the one that shows up on "This Year's Model," followed by an amazing live version of "Less Than Zero" with heavy distortion and some bitterly re-written verses and an early Bacharach cover. The majority of the other demos are so-called "Honky-Tonk" versions, featuring Elvis solo acoustic reimaginaing himself as a country crooner. These versions give an interesting insight into the songs, revealing elements not previously noticed.
Top all this off with the extensive liner-notes by Elvis Himself full of pictures antecdotes about the writing and recording of the album with an almost unknown record label and working a day-job as a computer engineer. After reading this stuff one is amazed that the album was ever made, but let's thank all the higher-powers there are that it was. This is an absolute master-work, one of the ballsiest debuts ever, and the birth of a rock legend.
on February 18, 2004
"If he didn't exist, someone would try to invent him", read a promotional poster for Elvis Costello's 1977 debut. However, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and to try to invent Elvis Costello would be like trying to invent Woody Allen, a personality whose singularity is on par with Elvis's. Elvis Costello was the angry young man par excellence (he was only 22 when the LP was released), and if punk is all about attitude, then he certainly fit the bill. My Aim is True also introduced a superb artist who could cover half a dozen styles (punk, rockabilly, reggae, Tin Pan Alley, new wave, singer/songwriter) and emotions (bitterness, anger, lust, ruefulness, whimsy, and musical inspiration) in an equal number of songs. Top that off with his moniker and unsettlingly warped Buddy Holly appearance, and you have the walking popular music museum that Costello is.
On My Aim is True - which must have come as a shock to his ex-office colleagues - his greatness manifests itself in about six tracks, five of which are undeniably brilliant, the other of which any individual listener can choose for him or herself. The other songs, while hardly mere filler, pale by comparison, and are perhaps ill-served by bare-bones production, slow tempos, and somewhat forced lyrics. The greatness of My Aim is True lies at least as much in the fact that it is the marking of an arrival as it does in the half-dozen truly great songs it contains.
On first listen, "Welcome to the Working Week" seems to start off the disc beautifully, and provide a great introduction to what makes Elvis tick. It is angry, bitter, and pithy (which is probably the single best and most oft-used word to describe his lyrics). However, one cannot be struck by the song's overly abrupt ending (a technique which can be effective, especially in punk, but isn't here), and the fact that the song doesn't make much sense and therefore fails to pack its potential lyrical punch (why is someone whose picture is in the paper being "rhythmically admired" being welcomed to the working week?). "Miracle Man" further reveals Elvis' lyrical abilities, and has that patented Elvis mix of bitterness and guilt, but is a bit ill-served by its matter-of-fact presentation (as are "Blame it on Cain" and "Less Than Zero," the latter of which was the first indication of what one critic called his "bizarre fascination with fascism"). "No Dancing," a chronicle of an eager-to-please, sex-starved nice guy (I wonder who?), is more pleasantly poppy, and is the best of the first four songs.
Finally, at track five, we arrive at "Alison," the first undeniable indication of Elvis' talent. Here he is a singer-songwriter in the best sense of the term. Elvis packs all of what were to become his trademark emotions into this song, as he laments a lost love from whom he just can't keep the appropriate physical and emotional distance ("Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking," "I can't stand to see you this way"). The singer of the song wants Alison back, but cannot accept her as she is now (and he probably shouldn't), but would gladly have her as she once was (and she might be just as happy to be that person again, too). This song should lay waste to any doubts that the first-time listener might have.
After "Alison," the CD alternates between truly undeniable brilliance and pleasant enough pop songs. In the latter category are the Tin Pan Alley ditties "Sneaky Feelings" and "Pay It Back," which are entertaining, but serve mainly to indicate Elvis' range, and may not impress listeners who appreciate the pithy Elvis. "Less Than Zero", the first line of which was immortalized by Elvis's first (and, for a very long time, only) Saturday Night Live appearance, might have worked better if it were a bit tighter, and played at a quicker tempo, while "Waiting for the End of the World" sounds more like a report than a song (although the guitar work is quite tasteful).
But don't let this frighten you away. The second half of the disc also treats the listener to four of the best songs Elvis ever recorded, which, in combination with "Alison", almost make pointing out the weaker moments of the disc sound like nit-picking. "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" sublimely reveals a kinder, gentler, whimsical Elvis, who seems to think he's good enough, smart enough, and possibly liked by non-existent entities. It also contains some of the best lyrics on the CD (eg, "I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused," "Oh, I said 'I'm so happy I could die'/She said 'drop dead' and left with another guy"). "Mystery Dance" reveals the sexually frustrated Elvis in an impossibly catchy one-and-a-half minute glory days of rock and roll song drenched in the attitude of punk. Hearing Elvis Costello sing "I'm not angry anymore" - in a quintessential Costello self-portrait - is like hearing a fish sing a song called "I'm Not Wet." And the disc's closer, the reggae-infected "Watching The Detectives", almost sounds out of place on My Aim is True, but it nicely foreshadows the greater sophistication of his future releases (but the soon-to-be-released single "Radio Radio" seems to belong on this album).
All things considered, Elvis emerged more or less fully formed on the finer moments of My Aim is True. The weaker songs, at the very least, indicate an amazing musical facility, while the stronger songs are strong not only by comparison to the others on the disc, but to any song released in 1977. The CD is less of a sign of things to come than a full-fledged revelation of a great musical talent and palpably unique personality. I do believe that he has better, or at least more consistent, albums (e.g., This Year's Model, Armed Forces), but the best songs on this CD are at least as good as the best ones anywhere in his catalog. Still, the lesser songs do subtract a bit from the overall quality and momentum of the disc. Even if they are good enough songs, they are less impressive in a way that makes them seem unsatisfying and disappointing. But this can fade with repeated listenings, and My Aim is True is a fine place to start or to continue appreciating one of the best singer-songwriters of the past three decades.
(The bonus disc included with the Rhino re-issue is worth having not only for the alternate takes and live songs, but for the fascinating liner notes, penned by Elvis himself. All nine of the Ryko version bonus tracks are included, and the alternate versions of "No Action" and especially "Mystery Dance" - which is solo and all acoustic - are welcome additions. Live versions include those of "Less Than Zero" - with some interestingly different lyrics - and the David/Bacharach song "I Just Don't Know What to do With Myself". Several other tracks are presented in what are appropriately called "Honky Tonk demos," and showcase Elvis' lifelong enthrallment with country. Plus, lyrics to every song - bonus tracks too - are thrown in. So be sure to shell out the extra few bucks for the Rhino 2-disc set.)