There are so many new faces flashing through the rock music scene today that it is difficult to differentiate the supercharged from the superficial. As "new wave" music factionalizes and doubles back over itself - infusing some new energy, releasing its share of trash, and putting a few acts dangerously close to general acceptance - there are performers on the fringe who are not yet grouped into a subgenre. They make it or disappear on their own, without the help (or harm) of a movement.
Two such performers worth your consideration are Elvis Costello and Eddie Money. Both recently put out debut albums on Columbia, the same company that originally recorded promising newcomers like Bob Dyland and Bruce Springsteen (and Barbra Streisand, if anyone is still interested). Not that either Costello or Money is a Dylan or Spingsteen (or Streisand), but both are causing some excitement and both represent refreshing relief for an art that recently has sounded as if it was manufactured by a Xerox machine.
Elvis Costello is neither the king nor the comedian. He's a British belter who looks a bit like Buddy Holly and sounds a bit like Graham Parker. Despite his British citizenship and odd appearance, Costello is not at all "punk." In fact, his melodies bear a much stronger resemblance to the old Hollies and Searchers than to heavier bands.
What distinguishes Costello is a keen ear for melody. On his album "My Aim Is True" (Columbia JC 35037), straight rockers like "Welcome to the Working Week" transcend their simplicity through exuberance and slower ballads including "Alison" are shaded with innocence and sincerity.
It's true that Costello can sound a lot like Parker, especially on "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" and "Watching the Detectives," a cleverly realized fantasy about tuning in cop shows on television (and melodically reminiscent of Garland Jeffries' "Wild in the Streets"). Costello's voice is softer around the edges than Parker's and, though Parker is accused of sounding like Bruce Springsteen, the theorem is incomplete: Costello does not really sound much like Springsteen. He sounds like a throwback to earlier styles but sings with wit. In "Mystery Dance" Costello roars in a mock-macho grow:
Well, I remember when the lights went out
And I was trying to make it look like it was never in doubt
She thought that I knew and I though that she knew.
So both of us were willing, but we didn't know how to do it.
You have to like guy like that.
Eddie Moneys is a bit of a different story. A New York City street kid and former cop, Money melds a conglomeration of influences into a whole that never sounds completely copied. There are traces of Paul Rodgers' vocals with Free and Bad Company of the Righteous Brothers, of Creedence Clearwater Revival, of Steve Miller (both Lonnie Turner and Gary malaber of Miller's band back Money on several tracks), of Jimi Hendrix, of the Beatles, of everybody. None, though, is so blatantly exploited as to mark Money as a mere imitator, and all the pieces on "Eddie Money" (Columbia PC 34909) have a solid rhythmic foundation that is impossible to ignore.
"Two Tickets to Paradise" successfully establishes the fundamental patterns by the album, and Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold on Me" is as good a white rocker's interpretation of a black blues number as you're likely to hear.
There are some questionable moments. "Gamblin' Man" has a chorus that is nearly a chord-for-chord reproduction of Creedence's "Fortunate Son" and "Got to Get Another Girl" begins as a dead ringer for Steve Stills' "Go Back Home." If you listen closely, there are remnants of other recognizable songs stitched into the seams of Money's own material, but it's generally more a tribute to past masters than a refreshing of old formulas.
Eddie Money is the first artist signed to Bill Graham's Wolfgang Productions, and Graham is not one to waste time on stiffs. If this album is an indication of potential, Graham should quietly congratulate himself. For his Money, he's getting change and and accompanying interest.