Some songs come from a dark place. Sometimes the true depth and darkness of a song is obscured behind a sheen. ‘Every Breath You Take’? Dark. Any couple sharing a dancefloor to this at a wedding really should reconsider. Everything.
Sometimes the meaning is fairly unambiguous. Lyrically and musically, the pain and suffering are apparent. A case in point: ‘I Want You’ by Elvis Costello. Possibly the darkest song recorded. It’s pitch black. Desire, obsession, guilt, jealousy – it’s got it all. It’s also got what one of my friends referred to as ‘the best guitar solo in the English language’ (thanks, Louis).
It’s knowing that he knows you now after only guessing
It’s the thought of him undressing you, or you undressing
As I said – dark.
I want to know the things that you did that we did too
I might as well be useless for all it means to you
Did you call his name out as he held you down?
Elvis Costello has had his share of missteps – even I struggle to forgive the crime against music that was the album recorded with Anne Sophie Van Otter. But when it works, by Christ it’s good. He’s covered the bases from country to rock, from blues to easy listening, from big band jazz to straight ahead pop. He’s a true musical innovator, and as such, you have to go with him. You have to respect the fact that he’s still one of the most impressive songwriters. You have to accept that he’s musically expansive. And while his voice divides, I stand by the opinion that he delivers lyrics with more emotion and feeling than the vast majority of other more naturally gifted vocalists.
Some artists are ‘album artists’. Radiohead, Elbow – they are masters of the long player. Some are absolutely not. A few stand out tracks here and there, but a full album is beyond them. I’m going to go all out here, and put Oasis into this camp. Elvis Costello occupies the middle ground. Littered throughout his career are albums which truly shine, and others where there are standout tracks – but chances are that unless you’re ‘a fan’ you’re not going to have found them.
Have you heard ‘45’ from ‘When I Was Cruel’? Check it out. It’s pure celebratory pop music.
What about ‘Poor Fractured Atlas’ from ‘All This Useless Beauty’? It’s almost note perfect in its melancholy.
And ‘God Give Me Strength’, from his album ‘Painted From Memory’? It’s like the almighty rage pent up within ‘I Want You’ has been unleashed, but to the orchestration of his co-conspirator, Burt Bacharach.
And, let’s face it, even the stuff that you know is astonishing: the resignation of ‘Shipbuilding’, the pleading of ‘Alison’, the pure hate of ‘Tramp The Dirt Down’ and the balls-out fun of ‘Pump It Up’. They are scorched onto the consciousness of music. And rightly so.
‘I Want you’ is a masterpiece. It’s genuinely haunting, and shockingly honest. I’ve not got that much more to say about the song. It genuinely speaks for itself. Just be sure that you’re ready before diving in. It’s likely to leave a mark. It’ll take a few days for it to go away. You’ll still thank me for it.